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.