07.16.23 [on the F and 7 trains]

[the good news is that i have a backlog of a few subway posts i never typed up; the bad news is that they're all achronological now. forgive me!]

a momentous peep at a friend's instagram story and a text thread on Stolen Ocean Moments with my sister have added up to a plan that we – my sister and i, that is – are going to swim across the english channel together. we don't have a timeline yet, but to keep things moving and maybe make it official i suggested we make it happen before i turn 50, which gives us five years and change. why the english channel? it's the golden oldie of open-water distance swims, a point of light in her and my mental landscapes for a long time (she suspects a science teacher we both had in high school disliked her in part because he began an anecdote by asking the class if anyone knew who gertrude ederle was and she did). a distance swim is a fitting feat of strength for us (versus, like, an ultramarathon or hanging by our nipples over the grand canyon or something) because we're both besotted with the ocean and feel like we return to ourselves there. the training would be tough and time-consuming, but a lot of it would be swimming, and that sounds wonderful to me. i am a strong and avid swimmer, but also a decidedly amateur one, and in adulthood i haven't made much of an effort to have a meaningful relationship with local open water, which i think is at least sort of relatable given the inconvenience of the commute to the good stuff and the nastiness of what's relatively close. so i figure that once we have a general timeline i'll start hooking up with local open-water swimming groups, join a gym with a proper pool, hire some kind of personal trainer or coach, and so on. there's automatically a time-buffer built into the swim, since you have to hire a pilot boat to hand you food, point you in the right direction, keep you from getting rolled beneath one of the channel's squillion commercial ships (i believe i read it's the busiest shipping channel in the world) and so on. having a pilot boat with an observer aboard it are also part of the requirements if you want your swim to count as official with the channel swimming association, which also stipulates that you have to wear a sleeveless and legless suit, a cap, and that's it (no thermal or buoyancy aids). you can coat yourself with "grease," which in the good old days meant actual goose fat and now means a concoction that prevents sunburn and alleviates irritation from jellyfish stings and prolonged salt water exposure. though i think sharks haven't messed with a channel swimmer since 1971, jellyfish stings are pretty common. i hope to hear more about all that when i talk to my friend's friend, the crosser she chronicled in the instagram feed that got this whole pelagic bird chase started. the night after jo and i agreed to do it i tossed and turned a bit, filling my already-customary insomnia hours with thoughts of giant squid (in my defense i was reading preparing the ghost, about the first photo of a giant squid), but after that weirdness i just keep getting more excited. i am not a sprinter in any medium and i am not graceful, but i am brave and stubborn and stoic, and i know i can do this. i don't know how it took me so long to realize i should.


i can promise you i didn't do anything system-preferences-related that would have caused my laptop to delete all of the files on my hard drive and in my icloud account last night; the most exotic alteration i make to it is the application and removal of a triangular piece of washi tape when i want to reveal its camera for a zoom interview or cover it up for everything else. i can also tell you the cats didn't do anything weird to the machine, because i closed it and sat on the couch watching msnbc for like fifteen minutes before opening it to a blank desktop. just closing and opening, and there were a few drafts i'd put in the trash that i couldn't restore because they'd turned from word to excel files(?).

this morning i spent half an hour on the phone with a tech who ultimately made me a reservation at the apple store that turns out to be in the oculus down by the world trade center, a mall that seems designed to send people tumbling down wide flights of marble stairs. at the genius bar i was the undiagnosable malady of the day: my genius confirmed that i hadn't undone any of the protections that were supposed to prevent my computer from eating itself, and that all of my drafts, research, contracts, interviews, transcripts, invoices, pictures disappeared at the same time for secret reasons. "it even took all of your music," he marveled. he confided that he was an artist and didn't keep any of his drawings on his machines; they all lived on an external drive. he showed me an amazon product page that i photographed with my phone (i was later advised that if this freakish thing ever happened again i should jam my phone into airplane mode, which would maybe outrun the sync that would devour all of its files, too.)

we eventually figured out that about 5,000 files - a weird mix of my work, individual, like, live at leeds tracks i don't even remember transferring from a disc to the machine i had before this one, and a bunch of files i'd deleted intentionally in 2014 were wandering in some sort of digital bardo apple had recently created for people who i guess deleted all of their shit and then had changes of heart? but it wasn't searchable and it wouldn't upload in a batch, so i had to "brute force" it (per the genius) and hope the stuff i wanted was in there.

i walked home past trinity church and the supreme courthouse and thought about how while i wanted to revise the pain-in-the-ass super-science-y story i've been working on all summer i really just wanted to know that a little video of steve jumping for a mylar balloon still existed somewhere that i could find it, and i cried a little. i said that to another apple tech on a phone appointment an hour later. "i lost a cat earlier this year too," he said. "i'd raised it from when it was so small it fit in my hand, and then it lived outside, and i went out to a doctor's appointment for a headache or something and when i came back ants were crawling all over it." he said he had a little boy and he would be devastated if his pictures of him disappeared; what if, one day when he was twice as old as he is now, he couldn't remember his son when he was a little boy and he didn't have the photos to help him, what if they were just gone from his mind one night?

some of my batch-restoring attempts eventually worked (brute force!) and i found the steve video. his balloon is yellow mylar, star-shaped, and he meows questions at it before leaping in the air to catch its ribbon in his teeth. his back curves like it does in the tattoo luca font designed for me at the beginning of the summer; i had sent him a couple of photos ahead of time, but when i showed up for my appointment, he asked me where steve's stripes were when i remembered them. one of the things i have always loved about tattoos is the thought that they can't be taken away; no matter where i go or what i become, i have jude's three legs, chuck's shadow at my back, steve forever in the air.

07.15.23 [on the J train]

i joined the dubious sorority of generations of salty cooperators before me in writing to our building's management board this week, after treadmill adventure #475 in which the dude next to me in our janky old exercise room–on a work call the whole time!–set his incline to everest and grabbed the front of the machine so that it could haul him up the faux hill. i'd walk a parade in matching outfits with this pet peeve; i'd serve it little portions of my own dinner on one of the wedgwood dessert dishes i've hoarded on thrift store walks, would get a memorial tattoo for it if it was capable of dying. hauls like his are bad for him, bad for the machine, bad for me–a 'mill belt loosened thus will eventually start skipping and propel another user facefirst into the control panel, depriving her of her teeth and like maybe causing brain injury? in much more help-me-help-you terms i explained that in my message and offered some bracing national statistics about treadmill injuries, along with assorted pleasantries about how much we love our digs and the building's amenities. all true! our apartment rules and i'll be beside myself when the waters take it in the end times!

so i had a missed call from the president when i got up the next morning that i returned with a voicemail, and in the afternoon i got an email about how i was right and how's this wording for a sign for the gym? i sent praise and friendly tweaks; "stand by for greatness," said they, and scene.

talking about interactions with one's co-op board is probably up there with describing one's dreams,* but hear me out: ours is historically and notoriously resistant to feedback (our annual meetings are like jerry springer flash-forwards, or they were before i stopped attending them), and that last dare i say playful response shocked the shit out of me. i'm not surprised they responded to my note, it was a very good note, but the kicky denouement illustrated what i have started to think of as the mcconaughey principle, or the efficacy of the invitation to participate in cool. this is probably covered more eloquently in getting to yes, but i haven't read it since high school, so: i benefit regularly if not consistently from asking people in various persuasive episodes to join me in my correct and mutually beneficial thinking. i sort of did this back when i was a research chief and a big part of my job was explaining to writers and editors that they were wrong, but it's oakier now, and super-dry correction isn't my kink these days. it works so often! wild!

this might be a riff too far, but i think there's an echo of this in the way that most strangers are really nice to me. there's lots of privilege wrapped up in that, and sinister/shitty reasons why it's advantageous to treat middle-aged, upper-middle-class white women well, but i also think my particular look (multiple visible tattoos and piercings, frequently-vivid hair, punky brewster fits) kind of inspires people to comment on those things or engage with me in a way that implicates them in harmless whimsy. my elderly neighbors in particular love this kind of thing so, so much, internets. we all get to participate in a teal pixie cut and a checkered skort set! take care of yourself, and each other.

*the other night i had an intricate dream about an old-timey western that was also a soap opera set in the titular town of QUARRELWOOD and i might write some imaginary episode recaps for it.

07.08.23 [on the J train]

i'm still having the sort of seasonal trouble sleeping that doesn't afford me enough clarity to read as i have through every other wee hour of unexpected wakefulness in my life. i appear to be able to shop just fine, though, which isn't that unfortunate–i'm acquiring small-ticket stuff, pretty much–but it's weird. a few weeks ago i acquired a high-concept "sports bra" that addresses breasts like those layered ship's-sail-lookin' patio shades that don't shield much of anything (it would have been perfect for a pride parade, or a memphis group mermaid getup in coney island). earlier this week it was a set of tiny spring-mounted lips for kissing bugs without hurting them; last night / this morning it was a COME BACK SPACEMAN asteroid city tee. i have been thinking about asteroid city a lot since we saw it a few weeks ago–i think it's my favorite wes anderson movie, though one could argue that one's first has to be one's favorite (if one likes wes anderson movies as a general proposition, that is, and i respect that plenty don't) because it's just so surprising and delightful to go where he finds himself. i was going to say "to his dimension," but that could be the one scrawny cup of coffee in me talking. anyway, this one has a gorgeous melancholy-in-isolation that really got under my skin; there are plenty of explicitly sad things there, like tom hanks's characters interactions with his dead daughter's widower, but there are more delicate ones like the way the precocious children look at the sky, or the stop-motion alien looks at humans, or the way the humans look back at him. it felt even more elegiac to me than the french dispatch did, and that was all about my actual world! (i'm not the next william shawn or anything, but you know what i mean.)

one of my assigning editors just got swept up in the latest round of layoffs at her ever-more-merger-happy parent company, and i met her, a fellow media casualty, and one of her other regular freelancers for lunch this week. i'd known she'd be in new york and told her to ping me if she had a moment so i could buy her a drink, but i didn't see her middle-of-the-night text until the next morning, so i barely had time to worry about whether or not my human suit was on straight before i headed up to little spain. it was legitimately lovely to see her and meet the other two; since i don't network and haven't been on a press trip since before the pandemic, it's been a long time since i've interacted with people who've played our particular bullshit game of musical chairs. as someone who's been sitting on her own haunches more or less contentedly for nearly a decade now, i actually felt like i had a bit of zen to offer, though i think all of them would rather find another full-time salaried gig than, say, ping-pong between stressful underpaid highbrow vanity gigs and the bread-and-butter-offered-to-me stuff i've started calling, with an unfortunate case of nominative determinism, "problem sets." i talked way too much and suspect they all think i'm a blowhard, but maybe they had a good time also and i should just be more aggressive in my bedtime melatonin explorations?

i broke my own rule of not engaging famous people i encounter in person when i saw julio torres on the subway the other day. he debarked and switched trains at the same place i did, so i had a few minutes to contemplate the back of his head and think about greetings that wouldn't be an imposition. i settled on "we don't know each other, i just wanted to tell you i think you're brilliant and i'm forgetting her name because i'm nervous but your nugget is really elegant." he smiled and thank me and said he'd tell her, and i excused myself and dove into a westbound L train across the platform. it was okay!

it looks like i actually do have a press trip coming up at long last; i was invited to bring a guest (provided i covered their airfare) on a comparatively-small-boat expedition up around eastern canada. i told myself i wouldn't cruise again after the press trip joe and i took years ago–there's just no way to justify that environmental impact, and our personal guide in akureyri when we were in iceland a few months ago told us in no uncertain terms that big ships were smothering his country's ports–but i decided i think there are things for me to report on here, and that if cruising is to continue to happen, it's got to happen at this scale (that is, boats a fraction of the size of ye olde floating megaresorts, with sustainable features and meaningful partnerships with scientists and conservationists). we haven't officially booked yet, but it's in the water.

06.18.22 [on the D train]

in attempting to send my dad father's day salutations i sent him some pull quotes from a piece about the harvard medical school morgue staffer who got caught selling donors' body parts to gothbros and issuing receipts for "braiiiiiins." better than a jerky of the month subscription or an ugly tie, probably? i was reminded of a few years ago, when one of the big outlets i'd been writing for pivoted, somewhat mysteriously but not in an interesting way, from travel to paranormal content. one of their editors asked if i was interested in writing about true crime, which is one of a handful of subjects that just don't grab me at all. ditto ghost hunting, and the combination is lethal–contacting the spirits of murdered prostitutes and the otherwise marginalized, yeah, no. there were some weird weeks in there when we were all making a valiant effort to maintain a viewpoint–maybe we could get some more mileage out of haunted hotels?–but it didn't last long. this sale-of-body-parts stuff is perhaps closer to the kind of corpse-related stuff that does interest me, like how the medical school is going to have to track down all of those families who thought their folks' remains had gone to science. (NB: read the fine print several times when you turn stuff over To Science.)

joe speculates that maya deren, our tiny new cat, has mellowed because she was spayed on tuesday. doctor google is vague on this; she is probably 2-3 years old (per our vet) and has had at least one litter of kittens (per the gal on staten island who fostered her as she weaned them). it's been suggested that once a cat has reached decisive adulthood, spaying or neutering doesn't have much of an effect on their behavior. i have so little experience with female cats of any age that i'm no better than doctor google–but she seems to enjoy our company, even matty's, and i'm glad for that.

05.29.23 [on the J train]

you can't savor this as i can, but know regardless that i am writing on a J train that's occupied exclusively by feminine people and that i'm using a pen anne carson used two weeks ago at the full-moon publishing party and art happening we attended out in brooklyn. i don't usually feel compelled to Dress As Poets Do, but anne c.–who wrote one of the editions that was published and distributed on that night only, with all (if any) remaining copies to be burned that night*–wore a maraschino-red issey-miyake-adjacent sleeveless dress with matching trainers, plus a medal that looked a lot like the one i got for running that 5K through downtown reyjkavik. i would wear that every day! (as it happens, i'm currently wearing a short, sleeveless athleta dress with my monarch-butterfly-covered day of the dead adidas trainers, which might be a weird choice for escorting patients at an abortion clinic, but what should one wear for that? i went with running capris last time and it was also odd. can't turn up shlubby when odds are some shakycam video of you will end up on facebook with anti-choice propaganda captions, now can you.)

we now have a second cat, and i have mostly stopped thinking we have to kill her because she's ruining matty's life. (this is a regular impulse for me, my equivalent of maternal ferocity–when we brought kitten-steve home and he played with chuck's tail in a way i considered aggressive i thought about ending him, too.) she is the first adult cat, the first female cat, the first intact-recent-mama cat we've ever had, and i was more than a little afraid of her. kittens you can manhandle with love, provided that you communicate that they are the ones calling the shots in your interactions, and i feel pretty confident in my understanding of a little dude's agenda, but she! she growl-purred for the first 24 hours or so, which seemed related to matty's presence, but what if she just hated my guts? now she yells at matty sporadically but is portable and gymnastically affectionate with us–such flop-rolls! she was clearly not a street cat, but it seems like her experience is limited–upholstery and treats flummox her. i wish we could skip ahead to the part where she realizes matty wanting to be her pal is a good thing, but i'm doing my best to let them figure things out on their own. be cool, joe says, don't overthink it, which is weird, since he's met me.

*ragnar decided not to burn the extra books and instead had his translator take them, as burning books in this particular america felt fraught to him. relatable!

05.13.23 [on the J train]

the digital ads on this train are explaining how to prepare cherry blossom cookies, which feels like something one would definitely go home and do after a rudimentary subway tutorial. i had a magisterial run of mixed berry crumbles on winter weekends this year and have a solid dessert in my back pocket if we have anyone over for dinner ever again, which is not impossible. we flew home from iceland on may first, which is our newyorkaversary (observed) and maybe even the actual day we flew to new york from san francisco in 2003–my blog posts then aren't explicit about our arrival, though it would be unlikely that the seat-back TVs on the plane from california were covering bush's flight-jackety MISSION ACCOMPLISHED appearance on that aircraft carrier in such detail if it had happened the day before? i wasn't quite the bottomless news pit then that i am now, so i lack tasting notes.

i spoke to my therapist for the first time yesterday since our icelanding, and i think my anecdotes–of landing after a redeye and spontaneously deciding to run the national first-day-of-summer 5k that same morning, stalking the one antiquarian bookseller in reykjavik and then bonding with him, after securing two new-to-me editions of nineteen eighty-four in icelandic, over the fact that both of us needed to start writing poetry again, &c–might have disappointed her a bit. she's a wonderful person and i have no doubt that she wants me to be well, but maybe the fact that my sobriety is starting to feel a bit old hat and i'm not feeling gaslit by erstwhile old friends means we can redirect our respective resources a bit? i'm not interested in being the gal who gives up a practice that is working because it is working, but i do think we've plateaued in terms of those initial tribulations and might need to move on to something else. i'm reminded of the time i got locked out of our san francisco apartment and asked the locksmith, after he'd sheared through the deadbolt joe had so carefully installed on the back door, if he'd show me how to pick the lock on our front door. i am ready to break new houses! (ask me about lock picking with a two-liter soda bottle sometime, it's pretty boss.)

03.18.23 [on the F train]

after a year and a half of these crack-of-dawn journeys i can affirm that no one is on the subway at this hour for a good reason. it's not like buses in san francisco, where the 7 AM'ers were like actively casting spells to pry open the gates of hell and accelerate the end of the world, but the collective ugh up in here is palpable. i do these abortion clinic escort shifts once a month and was considering going again next weekend so i'd feel okay about skipping april, when my schedule is tricksier than usual because we'll be in iceland for two weeks, but back-to-back daybreak shenanigans would be too much for me. i do appreciate the community i feel on mornings like this one, as we wait to hear what that trump appointee out in amarillo will rule about mailing mifepristone, and everyone is grateful to have like-minded, action-oriented company, but my seasoning as a human shield wears thin with overuse, and the catharsis of confrontation just gets corrosive in big doses.

on horse pills, we saw our, i don't know, sixth play of the year on thursday. it was love, set in a temporary housing center in england, and it was wonderful. in another month or so it will probably start feeling like too much to have two or three artsy nights out per week, but for now it's excellent. all of the new york city, right in the kisser, go ahead! tonight we're headed up to the philharmonic, and i will disco nap hard enough this afternoon that i definitely won't fall asleep in the middle of the program. it helps that i crammed in a tár viewing right before the oscars last week; cate blanchett is MSG for me when i don't have a taste for something on my own, though even her formidable work in i'm not there couldn't make me care about bob dylan. in a year in which michelle yeoh didn't win everything, CB would have won another oscar; instead she just floated around in a cocoon of louis vuitton ecosilk like the gracious technolympian she is. i doubt she was bothered.

both the editor and the freelancer who fact checked my draft have written to say how much they love my robot cat essay, which has been a real relief; i didn't want to make a big deal about how much it means to me, but as i've said, i'm trying to break their hearts. that feedback is nipping at me to plot out another weird passion project, but i'm not very good at premeditating those–certain kinds of writing are like throwing up. afterward you're usually able to piece together what happened to get you to that point and you're grateful to be on the other side, but it's generally an unhealthy thing to get into on purpose.

on intimate fluids, i gave blood for the first time in ages yesterday, and my iron levels were totally unremarkable. at last, i am iron woman! is it sobriety-related? did the random daily multivitamins some PR person mailed me work better than all the others i've tried? did the blood bank get so desperate that they relaxed their guidelines for this along with everything else (the cooling-off period for donations after tattoos is now just three months–or no months, if you get tattooed in new jersey)? i won't look a gift needle in the mouth, but i will start donating platelets as often as i can. getting to read for two hours while watching my blood cycle through a machine, then drinking cranberry juice and feeling smugly helpful without actually having to interact with anyone? delectable. if they brought back those little bags of cheez-its for the are-you-going-to-faint-or-what tables it would be perfect.

02.26.23 [on the F train]

the nasty adventure of my thinking it would be a good idea to immediately adopt a kitten–which joe wasn't on board with at all but was willing to endure without objection for my sake–seems to be over. last thursday i applied for a little flame point kitten i found on petfinder, and on friday the rescue group emailed to say that my vet and former vet didn't have much information on matty, and he hadn't been seen since 2021; had i taken him somewhere else, perhaps? i hadn't; he loses his shit when we pack him up to take him to the doctor, and between the pandemic and steve's acute illness we decided to let things ride for a bit. i wrote a quick note back explaining that in a way that made us sound at least non-monstrous, and i wrote a longer one the next day to emphasize our essential fitness as pet guardians. i sent another one on monday with a link to a catster piece i wrote back in 2015 about how matty was so shy with strangers that we got a baby monitor to point at his food dish so we could let the petsitter know he was still alive when we went out of town. that last email really felt like showing my ass; i'm easily googled and my writing would have turned up in a cursory search, but intentionally exposing myself and all kinds of positions some rescue-group rando might find objectionable (when i friended steve's foster on facebook years ago i soon learned she had a robust array of exotic political stances) felt desperate. it was desperate. i am used to cat groups leaping at the chance to give me fancy kittens; steve's foster called me an hour after i applied for him and marveled at how our vet knew us by name, then confided that we beat out a vet tech as potential adopters. she drove all the way to philly to meet us and make the ol' steve transfer. matty's foster wasn't quite as exclamatory, but she okayed my flying all the way to los angeles for him, a thumbs-up i wasn't expecting in the least even though my introductory note made the notebook sound like reservoir dogs. these jersey folks with the flame point kitten, though–nothing. their autoresponse said they'd only contact me if i was approved, and that i should wait five business days. i did, feeling a bit more like no one would give us a cat ever again with each one, and on thursday i googled the group to see if, i don't know, they seemed like the kind of people who would take exception to my having 50 copies of nineteen eighty-four. i found an absolutely scathing passel of yelp reviews alleging that their fosters were horrifically negligent, that their screenings for parasites and things like FIV were breezy at best, that they were abrasive and disinterested at adoption events and maybe a bit racist(?!)...and, by the by, they asked for more info and rejected or ignored strong-sounding candidates all the time. that is lousy news for the little kitten i'd hoped to bring home, assuming he's there and up for adoption at all, but it's a relief to me; i couldn't in good conscience bring a potentially-very-contagious cat to live with matty (several yelpers railed about feline coronavirus, which terrifies me), and maybe the stink of neglect doesn't cling to me as enthusiastically as i thought it did. we won't really know until we revisit this stuff when we're back from iceland in may–if we're not impulsively adopting a cat now, i want to wait until after that big absence so a new creature won't lack us immediately–but the thought has given me some peace, and i'm grateful for that now.

i asked my editor for an extension of the big cat essay i was to turn in two weeks ago, and she was kind about it, so i'll be turning a draft over early this week. the robot cat manufacturers i expected to ignore me actually got in touch a few days ago (still got it with cyborg cat people, baby!), so i have a singular mise en place of uncanny-valley stuff, philosophy, interview notes from a wonderful turkish documentarian, and bioacoustic studies to dump into the ecstatic poetry that got me in this mess and cook up...something. it might be really great! it is almost definitely going to be really long. i already worry that i'm going to disappoint the aforementioned documentarian in the brevity with which i'll visit some of these cat-musings, but essential catness and the human heart are a lot to unpack in 1500 words, reader. if i make a crack about efelines dreaming of wireless mice you have permission to fire me from a cannon.

coldest sidewalk shift of the winter at the ol' health clinic–i tucked a couple of hand warmers under my icelandic wool fingerless gloves and i still feel like i'm writing with frozen breakfast sausages. i was hoping the cold would keep most of the protesters away, and one of the regular churches did wimp out on us, but the ones that showed were especially noxious: livestreaming and filming us, blocking patients' access to the clinic door with one of their signs featuring tiny baby parts splattered on coins and dollar bills, heckling the security guard. i should feel lucky that they almost never single me out for abuse–i guess the same vibe that makes people ask me for directions and if the thing they're trying on looks good says that i won't really take it to heart if you tell me i'm no better than a school shooter. my typical unpicking of the morning's stitches is to hop out of the subway at the greenmarket on the way home, and i brought a couple of shopping bags with me, though i'm guessing vendors will be staying home today as well. i've already gotten enough frequent-frigid-shopper card punches for this year's winter warrior spoon, but they aren't carrying them at the administrative tent yet. where is my spoon, friends?

02.13.23 [on the F and B trains]

i've started back in on piecing my pandemic quilt, which is something i'd put on hold when steve was declining this fall and winter since it probably can't be laundered ever (i didn't even prelaunder any of my fabric!) and definitely can't be laundered until i finish sewing it together. i beat myself up about that, in my magical thinking i was harming him by trying to limit his sickness's impact on our stuff, and i know how dumb that sounds, but what can you do? he was the smartest cat i've ever known, and i felt like he knew what i was doing most of the time. i also fear that he didn't understand our calling the vet to the apartment last tuesday at all and that i fucked up the one thing i could give him at the end of his life, because grief is body-checking me to the worst places right now. i hope it gives me room to get to useful pieces as i draft the piece on cats i now owe my editor at the end of the month instead of today, but i won't feel like a failure if it doesn't. kidding! i always feel like i fail my animals, especially in situations like this one.

the pandemic quilt–or the top of the pandemic quilt, anyway, i don't yet know how i'll bind and back it–is now about the size of a twin bed coverlet. matty already nests in it while i'm working, as steve once did, which makes the sewing trickier but is otherwise restorative for both of us. i've now incorporated fabrics from an agricultural festival on st. croix, a vintage shop in new haven, a bunch of fat quarter bundles from liberty when we were in london, and a place in philly's fabric district; it's not the rothko-inspired, super-disciplined design i originally had in mind, but its new maximalism has suited the way my headspace has cauliflowered over the past few years.

after my midtown doctor's appointment i swung down through hell's kitchen to see our old pet store, which partners with a local rescue group to host adoptable cats that i was going to appreciate as a casual passerby and then definitely leave behind. they did not have any cats, other than a new-to-me shop cat; they did have an OG staffer who recognized me from across the room ("oh my god, i remember you!"). it's been 14 years since we packed up for the lower east side! the old petland up and around the corner on ninth avenue is now an orangetheory, which must boost our former little pet shop, and good for them. does the shop owner now run into his customers there like he did with me at the janky bally total fitness under worldwide plaza all those years ago? (that wasn't the guy i saw today.) i took an escalator down to take a lap through our old food emporium and talked cats with a cashier at our old health foood market. its natural licorice selection has become even more magnificent.


i forgot to tell you about the only winter course that matters, stanford's english 239:
In this course, we will read the three culminating novels of Henry James's 'major phase': The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. These are among the greatest and most profound novels in English. Many people also find them boring or unreadable. Unquestionably, their prose is difficult, with sentences so complex, wandering, and ambiguous, that the sense may be hard to construe. While very little action occurs, topics illuminated include love, money, sex-gender-sexuality, and evil. These three novels, taken seriously, have unusual powers to illuminate your future life, but also perhaps to mislead or ruin it. All are microscopic studies of social interaction, psychology, and selves. Recommended for very advanced and searching students and readers. Please enroll only if you find difficult prose manageable and rewarding, and you anticipate that these particular novels may speak to you at this stage of your life.
two of my dearest friends and i took a...memorable henry james class at stanford. one of us might have been a teen polymath who composed music while taking breezy notes; another might have celebrated the end of the term by writing a mass email about their and henry james's long-awaited breakup. i think we all still refer to the grad student who'd switch languages in the middle of statement-questions as the white worm. all course descriptions should roll like this.

the only interview that matters, in turn, is the hollywood reporter's harrison ford cover story. it unfolds as TED talks would if i had my way, and on a day that has otherwise been overwhelmingly fucking awful it has brought me peace.
When asked what he’d want written on his tombstone, Ford replies: “I wouldn’t want it to be  ‘Harrison Ford, blah-blah-blah, actor.’ I’d settle for ‘Was Useful.’ ” I point out that’s a particularly reductive way to sum up a life, and Ford shoots back: “Well, there’s not a lot of space on a tombstone.”


You’ve also rescued several people with your helicopter. How do stranded hikers react when they’re rescued by Harrison Ford?

Well, one time we picked up this woman who was hypothermic on the mountain. She barfed in my cowboy hat but didn’t know who I was until the next day. I stopped doing it because we would be lucky enough to find somebody and then they’d be on Good Morning America talking about “a hero pilot.” It’s nothing fucking like that. It’s a team effort. It’s lame to think about it that way.


[Shrinking co-creator Bill] Lawrence made it sound like you have a boyish and youthful side that’s very different, and suggested it’s more the real you than what people tend to see.

Do you fish?

No. I mean, not since I was a kid.

There’s this thing called “match the hatch.” It’s when there’s a natural bug in the air the fish are eating and you use an artificial fly that’s the same color. I have a protective coloration. I try to blend in. That’s what I do. When I’m getting dressed, if people are going to be wearing a suit, I wear a suit. If people are wearing blue jeans, I’m wearing blue jeans. I’m comfortable in all kinds of company. If they’re serious, I’m serious. They’re not serious, I’m not serious. And if they’re too fucking serious, I’m not serious. (Laughs.) I don’t know why people have an expectation of me. I come in all colors. I don’t know who’s going to show up. But it’s usually me and it looks familiar.

One of your majors in college was philosophy. Has any of that stayed with you?

Yeah. There’s a Protestant theologian named Paul Tillich who wrote that if you have trouble with the word “God,” take whatever is central and most meaningful to your life and call that God. My mother was Jewish, my father was Catholic, and I was raised Democrat — my moral purpose was being a Democrat with the big D. But it didn’t apply to a political point of view so much as it applied to nature. I didn’t have any religious construct, but I think nature and God are the same thing. The mysterious origin of life — science tells us how it happened, prophecy tells us another story. I found that everything in nature — the complexity, the biodiversity, the symbiotic relationships — is the same thing other people attribute to God. … Now aren’t you glad you asked that question? You want to get back to the funny shit?

I am glad I asked. I haven’t heard you say that before.

I’ve been saving it just for you, man.

01.31.23 [on the F train]

i am going to try submitting something to the new yorker! i think it has a decent shot of being appreciated if i execute the idea well, which is kind of terrifying; now i have to write the hell out of it. i haven't worked on humor for, oh, a decade, when i would buzz mcsweeney's with a list every once in a while,* like a comet that wanted you to try the veal and tip your servers. this is a better idea than those were, but i haven't described it to anyone because i'll need to see if the premise works without explanation for early readers once i have a draft finished. (i don't have a draft finished, though i have the intro together, which for me is half the battle. i'm manifesting, just accept that 2023 is the year of woo-woo.)

this prospective ha-ha of mine - it's a daily shout, in theory - requires research, so i've been getting all kinds of exotic alerts from the academic journal aggregators i fired up when i was writing about iceland in the fall. sounds like a barrel of laughs, right? it is odd working regularly and earnestly at something new and unlikely, but i'm enjoying myself.

my other nonstandard project is an essay due in mid-february on, among other things, robot cats. i am to interview the makers of robot cats about what it is that makes them catlike, and i have a strong suspicion that no one at all will answer my queries. no, that's not quite right - i think one particular source will reply in a way that both bums me out in terms of my own mortality and makes me feel even worse about steve's illness than i already do. it's hard to tell how steve is doing, though it seems clear that he has unfinished business on this plane of existence. i am not not interested in interviewing him about it.

my aunt and godmother's brother died recently, and in the back-and-forth after i wrote to offer condolences i sent her one of some good death poems i read in the latest installment of emma straub's newsletter. it seemed like a good idea at the time - the poem made me feel good - but joe thought it wouldn't comfort her. you can read the whole thing here (it's the second one, "in the beautiful rain"); i was going to tell you my favorite part and realized i don't have one, it's all lovely, but the part that felt like it was meant for me is
“Though grudging at first,
he fell like the rain,
with his eyes wide open,
willing to change.”
i'm just about to finish straub's this time tomorrow and discovered last night that its heroine and i have the same birthday, which feels like something she (emma straub, that is) would find amusing; it's a Plot Point. maybe i have an unrealistic sense of what authors want to know about the people reading their books? i once sent patricia lockwood a photo of my purple toe after falling down the stairs in our friends' casita in the dominican republic because i was socked in with thoughts of her boss memoir, and i think it was well-received, but that might not be the best example. a few years after that i sent her a princess di beanie baby that went on to make an appearance on a mid-pandemic virtual book tour; patricia, i hope you never feel like you have to give the authorities a heads up about me.

*i should have quit when i was ahead with that one; they used my second (as i recall) submission in a book, and my batting average wasn't going to go up.



fancy soap (late-stage capitalism).
duross & langel chai madness: vegan, long-lasting, a spicy scent that primarily perfumes one's shower and doesn't linger. i load up on this stuff at the brick and mortar store when we go to philly. their candles are understated and lovely, too; we're burning this one right now and i'm already excited about what i'll plant in the vessel once it's kicked.

goatboy soaps irish tweed: like a benevolent old librarian, the kind with fantastic eyebrows. the folks at the union square greenmarket who sell ultra-local honey also sell this goat's milk soap, and i imagine i'll test-drive a bunch of scents over the next few months.

kalastyle halló iceland moss: our all-time favorite, and that's not just the iceland fetish talking. it's made with (and smells like) hand-harvested moss! i also appreciate the halló iceland volcanic ash and kelp soaps; haven't tried the angelica. moss is the absolute banger, though.

wonder valley hinoki: at the far end of the fanciness spectrum, and a good gifting choice; the packaging is exquisite. the hinoki is subtle but there, and the super-high-quality olive oil gives the bar fantastic texture. good lather. is it three times better than our icelandic standby? no. can cleansing ourselves with the finest things before the sea takes us make a difference, in the final analysis? maybe.

our country (play). i have now had four live theatre experiences this year, three of them today (the fourth was that participatory thing at the library two weeks ago – also, like today's hat trick, part of the public's 2023 under the radar festival), and i've never felt so alive! i haven't felt so alive recently, anyway; it also helped that joe and i ran through the rain to dinner between today's second and third shows. this wonderfully experimental performance combined ancient theatre, recorded interviews, choreography, shadow puppetry, sleight of hand, feats of strength, audience interviews and even blanket forts to create a composite portrait of a sibling dynamic that was genuinely exciting; the shared and individual histories co-creator/performer annie saunders and her acting partner shared were interesting, but i mean that the way all of those things developed that history got me excited about telling stories of my own. our country is sort of about individualism and the frontier; it's also a wild mishmash of antigone and girl, interrupted, and it's one of the most vivid explorations of sibling interactions i've seen in a long time. "my brother has a criminal history. he’s actually great now. but for many, many years, that was the dynamic. i spent a few days with my brother in the summer of 2016 and made about 10 hours of tape of us talking to each other about 'antigone,' our childhood, criminality, the law. that became a major part of the show," saunders told the times at the beginning of the festival. she told us at the beginning of this performance that it might be the show's last, ever, and i really, really hope that it isn't; it's the most interesting theatre i've seen since the first time i saw annie baker's the flick a decade ago.

skinamarink (film). joe says that a couple of people walked out of our theater when we saw this, but i didn't notice; i was clenched in my seat with my hand hovering over my face and an obscure, ashy taste in my mouth. if you were a certain kind of lonely child, the kind that spent a couple of years or more than a couple of years desperately scrabbling around for other humans to sleep beside, i suspect this movie will scare the piss out of you, as it did me. it doesn't depict children experiencing a waking nightmare; it recreates the feeling of having a waking nightmare as a child, the unspeakably terrible architecture that reveals itself in certain stretches of the dark. i used to eat ostensibly poisonous things to call adults' bluffs and knock my wind out on the regular for the chance to be the youngest or first kid to use the high dive or fling herself from a jumping rock... and after dark my bravado shriveled into nothing and i used to sneak into my little sisters' room and cower on the floor next to their bunk bed. i still sleep best on my stomach with my head turned to the right and my sheets over my head and pursed around my nose! it's just old habit now, but skinamarink was a spicy meatball for me. if you're the type of horror fan who watches things to sound your own depths, to yell and see what echoes back, it's worth seeing. in other horror news, here is what happens when you look for wasps in figs from trader joe's.


it's been such a long time since i participated in the first and second parts of 600 highwaymen's a thousand ways, a triptych of participatory experimental theatre. the first time, in may of 2021, i met a stranger and a bot on a phone call and we were directed through telling a story together; the second time, a month later, i met another stranger through a big piece of plexiglass in an empty theater and we interacted as a stack of cards instructed us. this time i went up to midtown to what i figured until today was the new york public library's stephen a. schwartzman building (the one with patience and fortitude, the lions, and where i went to try to get my first nypl library card almost two decades ago because i didn't know any better); actually it was the stavros niarchos foundation library, the one southeast of the flagship that replaced the branch where i actually did get my library card. i walked up to the seventh floor, hung up my coat and left my tote bag on a table in an event space, took one of sixteen chairs after reading the card it held, and waited for the door to shut.

we were encouraged to remember what happened simply by remembering it, and i want to honor that by, to paraphrase myself when i'm mocking a camera-happy friend, just taking a picture with my feelings. i will say that at one point another participant came up and put his hand on my shoulder because he thought i was the one, of all of us, who most liked to be by myself - his eyes smiled at me above his mask - and i put my hand on his shoulder: he would know that because he was the one. i think we can smell each other.

as we were walking out and waiting for the elevator i asked one of the other participants if she'd done parts one and two of the production; she had, and she'd even done the phone one twice, because she'd wanted to know what it was like to be person A and person B in the exchange. we agreed that we'd found the first parts more intense than this one; i remarked that those had hit like booze at altitude, and she said it was just like that. did the creators have to wait until now to stage this conclusion to the cycle because of the tricksiness of meeting in person during the pandemic? (there was touching today, as i said, and a few of us weren't wearing masks.) i learned when i got home that it was staged in seattle in march of last year, so - no, at least kind of no. i also said i thought that mimicked what the stages of transitioning out of lockdown had felt like; we entered it together, but each of us left it alone, in their own way, the connections all eroded. her name is molly, and she told me she was going downstairs to use the bathroom; i told her my name was lauren and i was going to go play frogger with my husband. that sounded like an excellent thing to do, she said. i have already forgotten the wording of what she told me she was glad to do with me today and i agreed i was glad to have done with her; i walked downtown to st. mark's place after repocketing the copper arcade token i'd passed around the circle, to molly, and when i got there i fed it into a cabinet and it was gone.

01.07.23 [on the J train]

if i had taken communications classes in college instead of lurching into and through my current career like an ewok in an imperial walker i would maybe know what to call the unpleasant shiver of self-awareness one experiences when one is revealed to be representative of a particular demographic (pardon the word salad here, i've only been awake and caffeinated for a bit) - you know, like when you're showering at a youth hostel in amsterdam and the guy in the stall next to you turns out to know your ex-boyfriend and also be a regular at the indie coffee shop you favor a few suburbs up the freeway back home in southern california. the unheimlich of realizing you're a type? this is not quite like when your phone correctly predicts what you're about to search for, but there is a flip side of this, a bourgeois relief when you realize strangers (or artificial intelligences, i guess) already know what you want. this is all a very inelegant ay of saying i was starting to type WHAT POWERS DOES A GHOUL HAVE and my phone leapt to search results about the speaker of the house, which is in fact the other repulsive and luckless being i have been thinking a lot about this week. on the first or second day of unsuccessful kevin mccarthy coronation i was out for a walk and got an "it's hakeem jeffries" text that i initially thought was from joe - holy shit, i thought, six republicans grew consciences and formed a coalition of the comparatively sane with the democrats! - but it was actually a fundraising bot à la all the "nancy pelosis" that u up?'ed me this fall. i had kind of wanted to get a pool together to take bets on how many votes kev and company would shamble through but i couldn't decide what the prize for the most accurate guesser would be (the buy-ins would go to some charity, i hadn't decided which yet. the aclu?) but i live in fear of getting punished for misrepresenting contest rules, an aversion i developed when i got stuck managing back-of-the-book fine print as a magazine editor that might be with me for good. anyway, congratulations, SPINO, i hope your portrait is a corker.

on ghouls, i just finished bones & all the book, and was reminded in the acknowledgements that the author wrote her "eaters" (it is the story of young people who eat people) as ghouls rather than cannibals, a distinction in her mind that involved their being supernatural beings and not twentieth-century donner partiers or something. this comes up both in the piece that interested me in the book in the first place and in a lithub piece that makes an admirable effort to tease apart the difference between ghouls and cannibals (and the former in camille deangelis's 2015 book vs. the latter in luca guadagnino's 2022 movie with david kajganich's screenplay, which for my money deserves an oscar nomination for some killer edits). there's a lot to break down there, no pun intended, and even more if you engage with the idea that deangelis wrote her book around the time that she became vegan and intended it to address the ethical problems with eating flesh - and i don't want to be unkind, but i think that theme doesn't land very well for me at all, though i certainly care about the subject - but one big clunker is that the layers of compulsion and need aren't exposed with much clarity. in the book the only supernatural power the eaters seem to have is that they can devour whole people (per the title) very quickly and leave only scraps, whereas in the movie eaters aren't that efficient but can smell each other from, in some cases, a significant distance? which seems at least preternatural if not supernatural? (this is the trouble with writing on a train.) in the book the ghoulish urges read a bit more like kink: the antihero can only eat people he despises and the antiheroine can only eat people who desire her (except for her babysitter, which is apparently a different case because she ate her when she was a very small child). also, ghouls are pretty universally, canonically repugnant, and scavengers, and...necrovores? is that what i mean? mark rylance's character, sully, only eats people who have died, but unless you're a massive dragon, a particularly gifted vivisectionist, or the water snake i caught and fed a tadpole on a camping trip in mendocino when i was a merciless tween naturalist, you kill things in the process of eating them (the only character in the book or the movie who eats only part of someone is one who eats their own hand or hands like an autophagous fast-food mascot). inconsistent rules is one of my pet peeves in stories of the supernatural; my other is when vampires get all forrest gump-y and traipse through history only meeting famous people and writing shakespeare's plays.

anyway: ghouls! the ghouls in the book are on their supernatural road trip in the late '90s during clinton's impeachment trial, and its musical references suffer accordingly (no joy division here; one charater asks another if they like shania twain). the villain has a backstory that makes him considerably less interesting, and the endings don't land very well. deangelis was super gracious about and appreicative of all of the strenous adaptation kajganich did, to her credit, though even that adaptation left me fuzzy on the moral and practical distinctions between ghoulishness and cannibalism, but for my part, after watching like 36 hours of congressional shenanigans this week i can't even tell you if house republicans are ghouls or cannibals, so i respect people who can put themselves out there as a general proposition.

completely unrelated: dr. john wyatt greenlee's english eel-rents of the 10th-17th centuries! "any eel-rent noted as having one eel due represent a place where the record is unclear about the number of eels due (such as the rent due for the mill at wolvey in 1251, which called for the mill to pay 1/2 of all the fish and eels caught there to ivo de dene). in each of these cases, the actual number of eels due almost certainly exceeded one."

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are house republicans ghouls or cannibals?
02 how many eels does it cost to live where you live?
03 should i report on the train itself when i'm writing on the train?



bones and all (film). i have loved mark rylance's weird magic ever since i saw his shakespeare-on-broadway double-header (twelfth night's viola one night, richard iii's richard the next!) almost a decade ago, so i would have itched to see this knowing only that he was part of it; i also love joy division's "atmosphere," which promos and the film itself use beautifully and, c'mon, timmy chardonnay as a star-crossed cannibal in a luca guadagnino movie? so much to delight. the cinematography is gorgeous, and i loved the little nods to fraught road movies like badlands (which wowed us at a lovely theater in philly when we spent a weekend there for a friend's wedding this fall). as in call me by your name, guadagnino's last set-in-the-'80s doomed love story starring timothée chalamet, the needle drops are fantastic throughout (along with joy division, there's new order, george strait, a-ha's "the sun always shines on tv," a track that should propel every movie henceforth and be recut into all archives*). i'm now reading the camille deangelis YA novel adapted for the movie, which the author herself has said is not her favorite work? digging into how the story changed is entertaining, even though i'm dreadful at fiction and would never write or adapt it myself.

guillermo del toro: crafting pinocchio (exhibit). it would never have occurred to me to see if moma was open on new year's day; why on earth would moma be open on new year's day? hats off to my sister for asking the tough questions so that she could introduce her sons to jackson pollack** and friends; we had two o'clock tickets for the museum on the first and it was delightful. it also would not have occurred to me to go up there for a guillermo del toro show, for while seeing his stuff up close is delightful (i quite enjoyed at home with monsters at lacma back in 2016, also with jo and my older nephew when he was puppet-sized), i sort of figured another exhibit would be more of the same - and i didn't love nightmare alley, his last project i'd seen. but! this joint was organized during film production, and it did a bang-up job of highlighting all the painstaking work that goes into stop-motion animation and del toro's characteristic world-building. jo's sons are six and four, and i think a lot of the show went over their heads, but i think it would blow a crafty tween's mind; if i'd seen that stuff when i was a sprout i'd be a tattoo artist or/and a necromancer today. i also loved the big wall of photos and titles at the end of the exhibition highlighting all of the artisans and technicians that worked on the movie; the whole presentation deconstructs and celebrates passion projects in a way that makes visitors want to make complicated stuff and support other makers. bonus points for making pinocchio about fascist italy! it's time to bring (talking about the horrors of) fascism back.

splat midnight jade (hair dye). my hair has been various shades of platinum-to-plantain blonde and medium-to-light blue for the last few years; since it never gets more than an inch or two long, i bleach and dye all of it without messing around with sectioning and root touchups. i'm pretty good at it! this stuff was supposed to turn my hair an unprecedented dark green, which felt like a festive angle from which to approach the winter. in practice it's vivid cobalt that sizzles into darkness at at the edges, and it runs down my temples and cheekbones when it gets wet two full weeks after application and several enthusiastic shampoos, so when i get caught in the rain i'm a cross between a blue morpho and rudy giuliani (but the good news is that i have some information that will blow the 2020 election wide open). this dye is not the right dye for me! tantalizing teal (and its soul-frying powder bleach) remains the chemical headsuit to beat.

*i really, really love a-ha. it still saddens me that that my trombone champ "take on me" endorsement didn't make it into that new york times newsletter i was talking about two weeks ago, but they did this, and: heh.

**her sons were unimpressed with jackson pollack. they couldn't get enough of yoko ono's film no. 4, though.



i packed up two pairs of light-up 2023 glasses for my nephews.
i renewed my membership with the new york mycological society.
i took some photographs of my bruised toe, then decided against sending one to friends.
i ordered a second(?) copy of this time tomorrow to pick up at emma straub's bookstore.
i sent a photo of my bruised toe to friends.
i revisited yoko ono's film no. 4.
i took a photograph of my sister's drawing of yoko ono's film no. 4.
i packed up two more pairs of light-up 2023 glasses for my nephews.
i stepped in cat shit.