12.31.23 [on the F train]

i spent the last of the morning setting out the final, top row of pieces to conclude the first stage of my pandemic english paper piecing quilt, a project that might actually have been simmering since 2019, now that i think about it—i bought some of the fabric for it when i was on st. croix for agrifest in february of 2020, and it was well underway by then. this portion is one of the loveliest for me—i've carried up from the waterline flash of sunset fire up to billowing clouds pieced with sherbet-colored liberty fabric, then bled those hues into bolts of darkening sky that becomes grey cosmic whorls and, finally, graphic black-and-white hexes that feel a bit like regolith liberated from a moon's gravity, or what a lithographer like jacques hnizdovsky would see in his mind's eye if he stargazed on a shore. the foot of the quilt features abstracted and rearranged grey-and-black koi on kimono fabric mixed in with some of my favorite hand-drawn blues to give the look of tide and pools mixing it up on a rocky shore, and at first i thought the final row at the top would include a bit more of those dusty floral greys, but i think that conclusion of unbroken darkness–or lightlessness, maybe—is fitting, as i for one don't know what comes next. i remember sewing that cartwheeling horizon together on a long-gone new year's eve and thinking: something is afoot.

we humans haven't been beyond lower earth atmosphere, where the international space station does donuts around our planet, since the early '70s, a factoid i don't imagine many non-scientists think about too often. fungi hae also been that far in recent years–we and fungi, out there deciding what we're going to do about cosmic radiation and what our next shelters will look like. i'd like to sew the last hexes in place tonight.


the dirty dozen (highlights of "the quest for a crocodile dictionary," new york times, 08.24.03)

01 By Anthony Ham
02 "[T]here are also nonvocal forms of 'speaking,' like head slaps on the water, narial geysering (when a crocodile dips its nose beneath the water and spouts water into the air), narial toots, and, yes, blowing bubbles."
03 "Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee has studied American alligators from Texas to South Carolina and described a ritual in which alligators gather to swim in circles 'like an old-fashioned village dance.'"
04 "He has also observed what he calls 'alligator choruses' during the spring mating season in Everglades National Park in Florida."
05 "...said Dr. Dinets, who is not involved in the crocodile dictionary."
06 "Even studying captive crocodiles has its complications: The crocodiles at Australia Zoo kept eating the microphones."
07 Splash Splash A male crocodile makes a narial geyser with his nostrils. Recording by Sonnie Flores/University of the Sunshine Coast.*
08 OY, NY, NY, Aug. 24: "[F]from most of what I have seen animals are not limited by their expressive abilities but more because they have limited things to discuss. Food, mating, danger, competition, and the early plays of Kaufman and Hart."
09 HERMAN, PA, Aug. 24:
"If they can get enough to eat from the remaining
mammals they could be the dominant species
Evolution could eventually get them a more
sophisticated language and they could find
ways to write plays and novels"
10 On Edge, Philadelphia, Aug. 24: "Like possibly 'My Dinner of Andre'?"
11 Linda Fernberg, New York, Aug. 24: "Sounds like peepers (frogs) peeping at the first sign of spring."
12 Cliff, Union City, MI, Aug. 25: "By the way the turtle is pretty good sized with a sharp beak and a head the size of a small dog, that could take off several fingers with one snap. But he seems pretty contented sitting in the guys lap, riding along, seemingly enjoying his notoriety for the day."

*the times and the researchers were too classy to say so, but the sound file embedded beside this [one of three in the article, all of which are vital; the second is the reptilian version of the law and order noise] is unquestionably the sound of a saltwater crocodile, or "saltie," flushing a toilet.

12.23.23 [on the F train]

it is too early to make good decisions! the anti-abortion extremists who harass patients outside the far-flung clinic to which i am en route would never yell something like that and i'm not about to suggest it, but–they wouldn't be incorrect? i nearly grabbed the wrong train just now as i was congratulating myself for waking up without my alarm for this morning's escorting shift. of course, i'll never rise naturally because birdsong summons and the sun warms my bones or whatever; worry is the only thing that gets me up without assistance. i don't mind that so much, as it sort of means that the worst moments of my day are inevitably the very first ones. once i know i won't sleep late i can pose for the river with the cats and contemplate late-stage capitalism with my microwaved day-old coffee. we are staying put for the holidays as we usually do, and it's even lower-impact than in previous years: we'll go out to a movie on christmas eve but aren't doing one of the fancy dinners i invariably hate. i still haven't figured out how to strike a balance between joe's interest in complicated-food-and-drink-related celebration and mine in comparative frugality (in that context, at least) and temperance, but i hope we're getting better at meeting each other halfway.

i didn't think i was going to have much free time here at the end of the year, but work is mostly done? i have to turn in a revised draft of my MUSHROOMS IN SPACE! essay back in over the first week of january, but it feels like the tweaks my editor and i talked about aren't going to break my head. i'm hemming and hawing over what my next passion projects (or at least the ones that i pitch instead of just accepting) will be and...meh? it was humbling to eat it with my first new yorker humor submission, though my dad made a valiant attempt to console me with the repeated story of how some friend of his has submitted hundreds of thousands of cartoons to them and is still waiting for a nod. i appreciate his point, but i am a very special girl and this is totally different.

speaking of special girls, my favorite former staffer from the bird hospital, a woman i haven't seen in person since well before the pandemic, popped up in my instagram feed as a full-fledged (heh) urban ranger in central park. i have absolutely nothing to do with that, but hot damn did it activate my proud-auntie parasympathetic system! one day you're swooning at the smell of crow blood in front of a gal and the next she's in your phone delivering a totally polished minilecture about weird duck season. i'm very curious to know if she's blown the whistle on mouse park, i.e. the spot where we'd sneak behind some trees and release the mice we'd caught nibbling on bird seed in the hospital's basement treatment room, but my feeling is that i should let sleeping liberated rodents lie. god i'm happy for her.

11.25.23 [on the J train]

i finished the book i was reading, i finished the book i was reading! that's generally what happens if you keep at it and turn the pages when you should, but this book kept getting longer, as if a malevolent troop of gnomes was scaling my etagère each night to add new chapters. if i hadn't come to the end at last after three hours of reading yesterday i was seriously considering setting out sticky traps. i have been splashing around in horror and horror-adjacent novels since my mycological society's book club read mexican gothic (appropriate for a bunch of mushroom enthusiasts but kind of squelchily confusing in its own right–i would have gone for some lovecraftian uncertainty at the end, e.g. "what i beheld when i followed the tunnel of luminous fungi to the unholy altar overwhelmed my senses so completely that darkness swallowed me whole and i knew no more," but part of the author's whole deal was to poke holes in racist lovecraftian bullshit, so i soupfooted my way through the too-too climax like a realatively good sport). i then read leech, which the cool kids at pegasus books in oakland recommended as i was buying mexican gothic, and that i appreciated much more; turns out i was in the mood for mid-apocalyptic, bipedal parasitism, and the premise was both terribly clever and well-developed. i still don't really understand why the image of dogs' noses kept popping up, but we're all entitled to a mystifying metaphor every now and again, i hope. speaking of, the weird humor piece i finally finished this fall and sent off to the new yorker right before we left for canada was at long last rejected, and then mcsweeney's rejected it with dispiriting alacrity. i was so sure i had a weird gem on my hands! joe, who isn't in the habit of inflating my expectations about writing stuff, was so sure i had a weird gem on my hands! maybe i'll just post it here, and dance like three readers are watching.

our trip to paris was remarkably pleasant–i'd built in a bunch of toothsome stuff, as i mentioned, and figured it would be decent, but i feel like a couple of decades have really done a number on the city's ambient misanthropy, maybe i'm a better tourist now that i've lived in a big city for a long time? maybe all the extra-crotchety boomers that made my family's visit difficult and then ingored me as a solo flâneuse have buggered off to the suburbs? people were great about speaking french with me, and having a smartphone meant that i was able to be generically chatty rather than a supplicant most of the time. our airbnb appeared to be some dude's actual apartment as opposed to some LLC's investment, and the sneakers i had to buy when my chuck taylors fell apart on like our second day didn't give me new-shoe blisters, a no-shit travel miracle. we even found what genuinely seems to be an old isfahan rug at a flea market, and while its mysteriously low price probably means that its previous owner was murdered on it or that it's full at the very least of continental poltergeists, it seems so far that they're the less-is-more sort of phantasms that knocked around that novel the gnomes kept writing. we really needed an extremely big floor covering, so this tradeoff is okay with me.

10.28.23 [on the F train]

it wasn't painful to get up just after six this morning! it's not something i want to get in the habit of doing, mind, but i didn't feel like i'd been hurled through an interstellar hatch to the waking world, blinking and about to freeze solid in airless space, and that is something. speaking of airless space, i am batting .500 on landing interviews with moon- and mars-colonization experts for an upcoming essay and feeling pretty fancy about it. some outlets' names get me instant yeses, but this one is niche and much trickier; if i spent my days thinking about terraforming and organic architecture i like to think that i would find queries like mine enchanting, but i appreciate that when one is focused on keeping our sorry asses alive beyond the home planet we've trashed it's important to allocate resources practically. i haven't decided if i'll do a video or phone interview with my yes; it can be easier to refer to my notes when i'm not visible, but it can be easier to establish a rapport with my subject when i am. she seems like a cool lady, so maybe i'll go for video? it might sound a little silly to be proud of just gaining access, but this expert wanted to see my questions before making up her mind on if or how we'd be in touch (not as weird as it sounds when you're talking about a science- versus personality-driven exchange; clinicians and researchers often want to know that you have your shit together before they promise you their time, and that's fine and fair. i'm not trying to trick her into a juicy quote about what happened after she slept with justin timberlake).

we are leaving for paris at the end of next week, my first time back since the ignominious visit of '97 when i wept my way across the city and had the best fried potatoes of my life with a man who mistook me for a hooker. i thought joe would make some restaurant reservations and we'd otherwise kinda walk the earth, but i've booked quite a few afternoons and evenings: we'll be rolling out for a rothko exhibition, an opera, a bicycle-themed film festival, and a jazz show. i revisited grace jones's memoir to take note of where we're supposed to look for 1000-3000 piece ravensburger puzzles (the book's most delightful aside) and my memory had played tricks on me: she actually just name checks a department store and isn't specific about location. her sister suggestion for new york city puzzle purchasing, in turn, is "times square." where in time square is grace jones shopping for puzzles? this is the sort of thing that would dominate my signage, had i commercial space in midtown.

within something like 18 hours of getting back from paris i'l be flying off to the bahamas for my first proper press trip since the pandemic started. it's a citizen-science-themed visit, one that could dovetail nicely with all the notes i took when we cruised around canada last month. i keep thinking every invitation will be my last, since i turn most of them down and i don't publish much in the way of entry-level travel roundups like i did a few years ago. that's okay, really: since i'm now a vegetarian teetotaler, i'm even more ill-suited to wining and dining than i used to be. i for one welcome a future in which i'm occasionally asked to catch an expedition boat or, like, pick up beach garbage in the bahamas. joe didn't seem to have FOMO about not being invited to join me for the latter, and that was definitely so when i noted this will be the first time i visit a place name-checked in "kokomo." find someone who loves you as much as my husband hates "kokomo."

09.02.23 [on the J train]

i made what turned out to be the extremely solid decision to read david copperfield right before* reading barbara kingsolver's demon copperhead, which i managed to hear almost nothing about aside from the whole riffing-on-dickens stuff. i don't know if you know this, but david copperfield is a RIPPING YARN; perhaps dickens was always this way and i just haven't read him in 20 years, maybe he hits a little different when you read him as a crone, maybe that's one of the best novels in the english language or something. but i'll tell you what, it also turns out to be a respectable summer read, immersive as it is, and all of the little adult-dave asides on kid-dave as he saw his mother for the last time and so on–lovely, just lovely. it was excellent to have all of that fresh in my mind when i moved on to barbara kingsolver for comp-lit cud-chewing purposes, even if some of the analogs were a bit superficial, though it turns out i really missed having mister micawber as a major-ish and sympathetic character? (the mccobbs in the contemporary novel are pretty uninteresting, and not at all epistolary). i didn't really respond to opioids as a big plot point, in turn–while i appreciate kingsolver's criticism there and realize that her being moved to make it is a lot of what got her to dance with dickens in the first place, there wasn't much elegance in how it was framed. collapsing the weirdness of the hero's first marriage into the collateral damages of big pharma–demon's first love is infantile because of drugs!–robs that character of the neat little glimmer of sympathy one develops for her at the end, at least for me. rose dartell, in turn, is just boring–and rose dartle was mysterious and a little terrifying in david copperfield!

i've moved from my copperfield/copperhead adventures to paved paradise, a book about parking and americans' disastrous addiction to it, and if i double back and read a victorian city-planning treatise afterward i will surely perish. that said, it's taken care of at least some of the insomnia that's been swiss-cheesing summer nights for me; after 20 minutes of [very astute observations about] parking, half an hour tops, i am fit only for oblivion.

[postscript as i finally input this train-post three months later: that parking book was pretty fantastic, and i think it radicalized me? or radicalized me about something else, i mean. i hope these out-of-sequence updates aren't too annoying, and i'll get better about transcribing them in a timely manner in the new year, baby, believe me this time.]

*technically i took a break and read idra novey's excellent take what you need when it popped up among my library hold requests right in the middle; it's also about the rust belt, and maybe better than demon copperhead, but that is a story for another time.


no publication-related love (at least from my two outlets of choice, and i am too fickle to pursue others) for my little humor piece that could, alas—but it makes me laugh, and that's what's important. here's what in my head felt like a cinch:

These Trader Joe’s Hacks Are Magical

Foraging, grave robbing, waiting for a blue moon—who has the time? Whether you’re prepping for weeknight rituals or planning a ceremony for someone special, this grocery-shopper’s grimoire cuts to the chase and won’t cost you your soul, probably.

Hungry for a bit of cross-cultural, carb-based divination? Clear your mind, gather bagged treats as their shapes catch your eye in the aisles, then choose one that is slightly larger—say, a Parmesan Crisp—to represent yourself. Attach meanings to each of the others: a Spicy Porkless Plant-Based Snack Rind for Trickery, an Organic White Truffle Potato Chip for Prosperity, and so on. Set the Self item in the center of a tea towel, then cast the other items atop it and let their arrangement reveal cleromantic meaning. Know that if the snacks are fickle you may not receive a message—but you can serve them again and again until your intuition serves you.

When you’re in the mood for love and glamour and can’t maintain a herd of 700 lactating donkeys, we’ve got you covered. Give your charisma and attractiveness a dairy-free boost by boiling together a bottle of Charles Shaw Rosé, a carton of Unsweetened Almond, Cashew & Macadamia Nut Beverage, and a bag of Joe Medium Roast Ground Coffee. Stir clockwise until the mixture is browned and fragrant, then pour it into a hot bath and take a good, long soak. Absorb even more of the mixture’s benefits by removing all of your hair below the neck with Honey Mango Shave Cream.

Swig this to sidestep the Black Death when cozying up to questionable corpses. Pour out half a bottle of Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, then pop in four peeled garlic cloves. Add a small handful each of Seasoning in a Pickle, Herbes de Provence, Everything but the Elote, and 21 Seasoning Salute, then reseal the bottle. Let it sit for four full days, shaking once a day, then strain and rebottle. Hack on a hack: To banish someone bothersome, write their name on a piece of the Fearless Flyer. Soak the paper in your vinaigrette, charge it with the full force of your repulsion when the moon’s face is hidden, fold it up as small as you can, and compost it.

We could all use a little help in the kitchen—and cooking up a sous chef has never been simpler. Line an ungreased loaf pan with Plain Pizza Dough, pour in a carton of Cage-Free 100% Liquid Egg Whites, then fold the dough inward and pinch the edges to create a pocket. Cover with horse dung, then leave the pan to putrefy somewhere warm and dark for 40 days, or until the dough begins to be alive, move, and stir, which can easily be seen. Warily and prudently nourish and feed the dough with Bloody Mary Mixer With Clam Juice and more horse dung for the space of 40 weeks, and it will become a true and living infant.

Ready to gain knowledge of the arts and sciences once and for all? Create a protective circle with 7 Salts of the Earth’s Hawaiian Black Lava (absolutely no gaps!), then create a second circle of White Chocolate Baking Chips within its confines. Use more Chips to trace an inverted pentagram, place Nutmeg Scented Candles at each of its five points, then place a sixth Candle and a pile of Golden Rounds Crackers beside it. Light the candles, then step between the circles; chant “Linan tasa jedan Paimon,” and picture a gloriously-crowned rider on a dromedary camel. Pro tip: Your guest of honor hath a great voice and roareth at their first coming, so summoners in the know tuck Bamba Peanut Snacks in their ears. Survived this recipe? Received dignities or lordships? Drop us a line in the comments!