05.11.24 [on the F train]

sprang! subway! no one is awake for a good reason! i couldn't fit a volunteer shift in last month and shouldn't really be starting with catchup now, i have a nasty week i should be pregaming, but the cats sense weakness and have been wedging my jet-lagged ass out of bed, so here we are. we did not see any of the solar-storm super-southern aurora borealis last night—even if it had been clear, light pollution is of course dreadful here—but i did see enough of it on social media to wish in the abstract that we were still in scandinavia. in practice i was in stockholm last friday, copenhagen the friday before that, and tulum the friday before that, so i'm pretty okay with never going anywhere ever again (except philadelphia next month for a rolling stones concert? i have no good excuse for that).

mexico was wonderful, the first press trip i've taken in a long time that made me feel like press trips are worth my time—which sounds silly, but since my main travel outlet switched over to all paranormal content a couple of years ago and i'm neither about to start ghost hunting nor especially interested in wooing new outlets, it's tricky to come up with ways to write about the things i'm invited to experience that don't make me feel like a shill. in truth i'm a writer who likes to travel rather than a travel writer, probably—one of the other americans on this trip was telling me about the industry conference i avoid every year and she and many of the writers i meet on these things seem to feel are indispensable, and it sounded like immersion therapy, or enhanced interrogation, or rush week at a southern school—matching with and speed-dating PR reps who then might or might not invite you to fly halfway around the world to spend two days at an all-inclusive resort devoted to steak, everclear, and show tunes, and while i get that this kind of full-body shudder is such niche privilege that i should just offer myself up as the first protein when the resource wars begin (you know they're coming soon, these lisa frank trapper keeper skies last night were no accident), wow, ritualizing what i do in a baldly networky way makes me want to walk into the sea. another beauty of the mexico trip is that for once i knew what (and that) i'd be writing about it before i accepted: a dear old friend from my magazine-staffer days asked if i would go and cook up a piece on solo travel for her new magazine, and that's very much the sort of thing i can get excited about doing. amusingly, though the trip was pitched to her/me as a gender-specific thing, other writers didn't arrive with that frame—and lo, there was a dude among us (two, counting the photographer/influencer who shot us all week). so technically a vagina travelogue it was not, though it functioned that way anyhow, a bit—beyond the collective appreciation of each other's sundresses and blouses that kicks off group meals on most temperate press trips, talk stayed reasonably clear of lady zones. despite my disdain for networking crap and industry gossip, i also picked up some interesting stuff about how other clients and markets work—like, if you're an australian writer it's hard to pitch a trip unless you're the only person in the country writing about it, and though US-based writers almost never feel obligated to promise coverage beforehand (and i can count on one hand the times i happen to have done it), it's standard practice in other places? i still haven't written about the cruise joe and i took last fall and the crazy bahamas trip that happened 16 hours after we got back from paris, and while i plan to get on that, i'm not especially excited about it. it feels significant that i haven't made much of an effort to fold these subjects into my pitches for the outlets i typically save for passion projects. am i quiet-quitting this phase of freelance writing, at least for now? mexico makes a compelling case for keeping an open mind—it was the perfect trip for me to take without joe, given the focus on swimming in caves and waking up before dawn to streak into the ocean. if i can position myself as my friend's startup's tropical goth crone, maybe i can wriggle out of the world of slideshows and bullet points and sing of iguanas in my own dialect. it has a certain something.

03.30.24 [on the J train]

there's an oak leaf pressed in this notebook from the owl funeral i attended last month—along with the zoo photo safari i'd taken just over a week earlier, one of the stranger trips i'd taken for an article, though there's a strong likelihood i'd have gone to the funeral anyway. i've now been writing and/or fretting over my latest Earnest Science Feature for nearly three months, though it feels more like thirty. i haven't begged joe to read any of this one except for the first version of the opening scene (one of my favorite will mcphail panels is the one where a woman asks a spider she's trapped under a glass to read something she's written), but given how much i've bitched and tossed around in bed about it, i'm sure he'll be as glad to see it out of our lives as he was, say, when i finished my orwell essay for the new york times. out, it will soon be out! until i get a big old tattoo of its subject in may, that is. (owl, not orwell.)

a man on this train is snoring the sort of snore that seems like it'd rouse the snorer, or jolt him a few inches in the air, at least, but he snores on, and i wish him well; it would be nice to be flat for a few more hours. i'm trying to get a few more bleary mornings volunteering in queens out of the way early this spring, as i'm going to mexico on assignment(!!) in a few weeks and joe and i are then meeting my folks in copenhagen, where i have decided i don't care if it's touristy to truck out to elsinore kronborg castle. we have planned little else beyond a few meals and a night at the opera and, oh, a shared airbnb i picked for when we migrate to stockholm. will my stepfather, aghast at the way i live when i'm not at a high-end hotel, decide he doesn't love me anymore? will joe out-snore this guy on the train, who sounds with every breath more and more like he's awake and trying to fool schoolchildren? will i join the danish swans and leave my terrestrial life behind once and for all? hard to say. i ended up not interviewing a colleague out in prospect park for the swan essay i sent off to the printer this week, as the thing was short enough that bringing in another voice was going to be kind of weird and she was being flaky enough about meeting that i didn't have the energy to keep chasing. i did send a draft of the piece to my friend R at the bird hospital—not because i needed to check facts, exactly, but because anyone who knew what i was talking about would know where i was talking about, and i wanted her blessing.

she called me from her long-overdue vacation and gave it, and told me Secret Owl Things about my other feature, and let me know, when i finally screwed up the courage to ask, that bird ben, the northern cardinal i've loved for a a decade, died last summer. i don't know how to write about that, and imagine i won't for a long time; knowing ben changed me in a way i might not understand until i'm very old, if i get to be very old. i do know that R's three-part benediction—you've done right by swans, i trust you enough to tell you confidential things about the owl, we can remember ben together—felt a bit like permission to take full height in this version of myself. i wonder sometimes if she knows how badly i wanted her to see this identity all those years i cleaned cages and wrestled geese, and i know that one of her great gifts is to speak to the people we want to be on our best days. i don't mean that i'm a few inches in the air like the snorer uptrain (who's still at it!), but i have had occasion to say yes, yes, that is what i meant.

02.03.24 [on the J train]

i've had a run of really wonderful reads at the start of this year: turning into a shark, swapping bodies with your spouse, defeating conversion camps, it's all been lovely. speculative fiction makes me itch to write strange things, though not to write fiction—i have tried that a few times and everything about it feels wrong. which is lucky, really, as i then get to enjoy others' stuff with absolutely no skin in the game. on that, though, i had a funky twinge yesterday that is leading me to look into the possibility of writing a nonfiction book? it would not be a collection of essays, nor would it be a memoir; it would have a principal and lots of secondary subjects that are not me, and you would just smell me in the structure and language, or maybe, maybe i would lean a bit into a framework like the one in preparing the ghost, where the author talks about the first photographer of a giant squid and also, semi-related, about his own working out of an ice cream truck in chicago. i will probably spare posterity stories of my slinging health food in orange county, but maybe other glimpses could end up in there? more importantly, the prospective subject spent significant parts of her life close to new york city, so if i decide i really want to dig in on research—a copy of her out-of-print midlife memoir is on its way to me now*—i could make a lot of initial progress without shelling out for plane tickets or making myself vulnerable in, i don't know, residency applications or whatever. i am still not at all sure that writing and especially selling and marketing a book are things i truly want to do, but i know i want to read this memoir to see if i like the idea of spending a lot more time thinking about this woman, and that's something?

the owl pitch i mentioned last month landed, speaking of writing. it landed this past wednesday because my editor missed my email the first time and then had COVID, so the time-sensitive part of the story is spoiled, but i get to spend the rest of the month thinking about owls—for money, and that's the dream, really. yet another bird pitch flew out of me about a week ago, and before that another about a world war two pilot and candy, and if all of them hit, february is going to be a bit of a shit show—but perhaps it's time for me to develop the ability to juggle passion projects instead of packing them in the tissue of better-paid busy work. the ceramic flamingo i ordered after embracing a flamingo in the bahamas last fall was bubble-wrapped just beautifully, and it still arrived on our doorstep with a broken neck.



*ETA as i finally get around to uploading this written-on-the-subway post: it was getting weird that the memoir i mentioned hadn't arrived as of today, so i checked my alibris account and realized i hadn't succeeded in buying it. it's finally en route for realsies! since i'm updating, i can also now report that the other bird pitch also hit and i finally got a weird no about the pilot, like, monday, february 20th. i'm a little shocked at the rejection, as that pitch was really good, but juggling three semi-recreational stories this month would have broken me. i am at peace.

01.06.24 [on the J train]

if eater posts an item about a delicately-braised writer turning up on a platform in queens later today, that's me; i took the clinic-escort volunteer leaders' email about extra-cold-weather layering too seriously and am sous-vide'ing myself in some zippy thing i bought in akureyri last year and snow boots that are bigger than the cat. i am not one of those people, alas, who thinks sweltering one's way to the great mixed-recycling bin would be better than freezing to death.

one of my milder personal nightmares came to life yesterday evening at this off-broadway riff on a mentalist show at which i was singled out for a bit of audience participation. this was my own fault, since the performer was narrowing down his field of targets by telling people to sit down if they weren't left-handed and so on—i could have just done that—but being compelled to lie is also a personal nightmare, so that was off the table. luckily the guy doing the audience work seemed to catch my awkward-collaborator psychic stink and moved on. i told my mom about the show and she sympathized—she once got plucked from the crowd at a penn and teller show in las vegas. my mother is a brutal disappointer of magicians—an occasion on which she did so at a southern california fuddrucker's is canonical in my family—so this fascinated me. are these guys (they are always guys) like cats who know when someone doesn't want them to sit in their lap?

i sent my first passion-project pitches for the new year earlier this week and—you might want to be sitting down for this—they are about birds. it's time to write a weird science piece about birds! the ideal weird piece about birds would be a deep dive on the state of sky burials, as caitlin doughty talked about in from here to eternity (her boss book about death practices around the world and why pretty much all of them are a better deal than what we do here in america); as i recall, it's getting tougher to do them in places like india because the necessary raptors no longer show up (pollution? habitat loss?), whereas here we have carrion birds aplenty but it's illegal. which reminds me: i wrote several pieces for a friend's end-of-life startup (heh) years ago and never bookmarked their eventual URLs; is my relatively mixed-company-friendly explanation of what happens when a body is embalmed still out there somewhere? what about the quaker funeral breakdown? (for what it's worth, i like the sound of quaker funerals: simple, pretty green.)

the bird pieces i pitched are about owls and flamingos, so no human-corpse-eating to report out, probably. if i pitch the owl idea to another outlet i'm considering mentioning that my enthusiasm for them is so consistent that the only smartphone lock screen i've ever had is a grainy old shot of the midtown hooters marquee. a little beside the point, maybe, but it's true, and i eventually landed that piece i wrote about collecting nineteen eighty-four because i emailed a stranger about the time a pigeon threw up in my mouth, so...maybe?

01.01.24

2024: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i gave a french couple directions to bryant park.
i went on my mushroom club's pop-up central park walk.
i learned a difference between snail eggs and slug eggs.
i decided to order crispy pickled artichokes instead of pickled crudités.
i shaved my legs in a bubble bath.
i extended my duolingo streak.
i remembered the bottle of kombucha in my tote bag.
i opened a window in the bedroom.