Sunday, April 20, 2014

Week that was

Liked: Free cookies at the video store
Disliked: The German railway (punctual, my ass)

Watched: The Dark Knight, better the second time
Saw: The Montmartre exhibit at Schirn Kunsthalle

Reading: The Siege of Krishnapur (still)
Listened to: Abbey Road

Lent: Two Gabriel Garcia Marquez books to a friend
Received: A new purse from my husband 

Ate: Grilled peppers
Drank: Sparkling water

Learned: How to make Absinthe 
Bought: Bath bombs for Easter baskets

Realized: In 1900s Paris what a woman needed most of all was a good hat 
Dreamed: I was at a camp or vacation spot with a group of people I only vaguely knew & when I woke up in the (dream) morning they were sitting in a semi-circle waiting for me to empty the dishwasher & fold the laundry & I was like I already have a family & began angrily throwing their clean clothes into a pile on the sand.

Laughed at: Cat video (what else)
Cried: Nope

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Diurnal advisory staff
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Madame de Staël
Fernando Pessoa

Nocturnal advisory staff:
Jane Eyre
Simon May
Frank McKinney Hubbard
Bozo the Clown

"Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet." - Frank McKinney Hubbard

Thursday, April 17, 2014


After surveying my younger (than me) colleagues, I acknowledge that - as suspected - half of them do not wear wristwatches. No, they rely on their cell phones to tell the time. Nor do they use alarm clocks, instead keeping their phones on the nightstand, set for 7 with their favorite ringtone, which changes capriciously. They don’t know what their favorite ringtone is. They don’t worry about batteries running out, or contracts expiring. Their minds are free.

I, on the other hand, am attached to my wristwatch. Sometimes I sleep with it on because it is so handsome. It’s not even self-winding - I must remember to jig the little knob back and forth to wind it. It doesn’t contain any apps; it doesn’t measure the temperature; it doesn’t store phone numbers, or know where the nearest Chinese restaurant is. It doesn’t do anything but tell time. I lash it to my wrist every morning like a sail to a boat, and no wind, no tidal wave, no change of fashion will remove it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

the week

Watched: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - good actors, underwhelming film
Saw: My 15-year old off on a short trip with a friend to Munich (ah Europa!)

Liked: Blue weather
Disliked: Garden snails

Reading: The Siege at Krishnapur by JG Farrell, in some circles considered the best Booker winner ever 
Listened to: White Winter Hymnal, many times

Started: A membership for my son at Germany’s jillion youth hostels
Stopped: Trying to squeeze the last bit of shampoo out of the bottle

Gave: Three books to my husband (Ethan Fromm, Wolf Hall, Jane Eyre)
Received: Much-needed help from colleague

Ate: Pumpkin ravioli
Drank: Kiwi smoothie

Learned: How to pronounce ‘posthumous
Bought: Bed linens 

Chore: Mowed the lawn
Leisure: Moth hunting 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Unhappy Campers

The sky today was imported from Holland, a nearly neon blue full of ship-sized white clouds that made me think the “Milky Way” moniker had been wasted on a phenomenon less worthy. 

I can’t complain about the German weather this spring. Yesterday was like a valentine - a warm breeze, buckets of sunshine, and everything budding. I had the day off, and headed off downtown in a pair of sandals I unearthed from the bottom of my closet. This was fairly daring for early April in Germany, I admit, and I was paid back by having them both self-destruct, pretty much simultaneously, as soon as I got off the UBahn. 

My daughter was coming to meet me anyway, so I asked her to bring socks and sneakers from home. Hell if I was going to pressure-buy shoes I didn’t want for the sake of not walking in the style of Marty Feldman’s Igor. She got a dress with the money I would have had to spend to continue perambulating in the style of myself, but I stopped at the blouse that looked like a paper towel.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?

So it’s national poetry month but probably you knew that. As for me I am still munching my way through “Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, etc…” 

I’ve gotten through love, sex, divorce, families, hatred, friendship, the self, neighbors, and today I arrived in America, where I read Allen Ginsberg’s terrific “America.” 

For some reason I looked it up online tonight and found it on a University of Pennsylvania site, complete with embedded links. The links suggested I should click out of the poem to inform myself about things mentioned there, such as the Wobblies or Sacco & Vanzetti. 

I have to say it is for old-fangled me a step too far to embed a poem with informative links. I hate it in a news story already (‘Are you sharing too much about your baby online?’ ’10 Sleep Habits that Cause Weight Gain’ ‘Check Our Recap of The Walking Dead Finale’), except sometimes. 

America why are your libraries full of tears? 
America when will you send your eggs to India? 
I'm sick of your insane demands. 
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? 
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world. 
Your machinery is too much for me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pigeons, sleep & pizza

I have nine poems in Houseboat today -

Mind the Gap
Snooze Button

Self-Portrait with Lava Lamp
Ingrid Wears Bangs

From the Back of My Mind
Subway Rider

Saw You, Want You

Saw you - corner of 8th 
and Crescent, asking 
a lady in fur for directions. 
My mouth went limp when 
you called her “ma’am”.
You smiled, and I felt
I might not have to walk 
through life carrying this boulder 
between my hands. I want 
to lie down in your drawl, fall
asleep in the crook of your eyebrow.
I kick myself for wearing 
that hippie poncho, for not 
having the car to drive you 
where you meant to go.
I never did anything
like this before.
I was the 5’5 brunette
carrying a takeout pizza.
The walk signal went green.
I sneezed, and
you blessed me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Conspicuous Consumption

It’s world tuberculosis day. “Let me count the ways,” as one TB victim said.

Albert Camus: existentialist, writer & heavy smoker, suffered TB for ages, but died instantly in a car crash.

Paul Eluard: surrealist poet, published his first book at age 18 when confined at Swiss sanatorium. There he met Gala, whom he married in the midst of WWI. 
She is standing on my eyelids / And her hair is in my hair / She has the color of my eye / She has the body of my hand 

Paul Gauguin: TB victim, died of syphilis instead.

Elizabeth Barrett Bowning: famous romantic poet, chronically ill and addicted to opium.
If thou must love me, let it be for nought.

Charles Bukowski: had TB, died of leukemia.

Kant: changed his name to Immanuel from Emanuel after learning Hebrew, among other things. 1764: Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen, or Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime.

Anne, Charlotte & Emily Bronte: "All my pretty ones, did you say all, o hell-kite!" (& Branwell) 

Frederic Chopin: a delicate consumptive who never developed facial hair. His sister Ludwicka returned to Warsaw from Paris with his heart floating in a jar of cognac, as requested in his will.

Honore de Balzac: August 18, 1850, five months after marrying, Balzac died. Only his mother was with him; his wife had gone to bed.

Eugene O’Neill: born in a hotel on broadway and 43rd. He entered a sanatorium in 1912 for tuberculosis, where read he much of the dramatic canon, with special attention to Strindberg. 

George Orwell: In 1938, coughing up blood, Orwell went to a sanatorium. He was later diagnosed with tuberculosis. 
But the truly frightening thing was the emaciation of his body. The barrel of the ribs was as narrow as that of a skeleton: the legs had shrunk so that the knees were thicker than the thighs…the curvature of the spine was astonishing. (1984)

Vivien Leigh: born in Darjeeling, voted prettiest girl in school, mistress of movie-set Tara. Two miscarriages, manic depressive, killed by TB.

Friedrich Schiller: German playwright and poet, author of Ode to Joy (Beethoven’s 9th), died of TB at age 46, possibly exacerbated by chemicals in the wallpaper at his lovely home in weimar.

John Keats: (died at 25) romantic poet, devoted his short adult life to vivid and sensuous poetry. Overexposure and the stress of a walking tour in the Lake District triggered the first symptoms of the tuberculosis. How long is this posthumous existence of mine to go on? 

& countless others. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Week

Watched: American Hustle, & pleasantly surprised
Saw: An old man with head wounds being cared for by five people (ambulance soon arrived)

Received: New passport, in which I will look like I just woke up pissed off and unwashed for the next 10 years
Gave: Pen to a pen-less colleague. Really, gave. Did not lend. A big deal, pen-wise. 

Liked: The sunshine
Disliked: The sunshine

Read: All Quiet on the Western Front
Listened to: Soprano singing Donald Rumsfeld found poetry

Started: Planning a visit to friends in Switzerland
Stopped: Following a negative train of thought, at least temporarily 

Ate: Warm goat cheese with thyme and honey
Drank: Rioja

Bought: New towels

Remembered: Abscam
Resolved: to tidy my desk (done!) 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

That side

There was a bus and subway strike today so I asked my neighbor if he’d take me to work. Turned out his office moved so he could only drop me at an S-Bahn station on the western edge of the city, where trains from out of town were still running in.

Neither of us knew the slightest about the geography of that part of town and he dropped me at a depot that was admittedly desolate. But I didn’t want to trouble him any more than I already had so I said no worries, I’d figure it out. It was near the station and he said there was a staircase that likely went to the train platforms. 

There was nothing there but wiring, fencing and steel beams and the little abandoned depot. I walked around it and found the staircase, a twisting rusted thing. It was my best possibility. 

The staircase was full of graffiti and pigeon shit and I don’t know why my neighbor’s wild guess that it might go the platform made me think it went to the platform. I got to the top and found myself on a narrow walkway that I soon discovered ran between train tracks, since a train whooped by and nearly took off my coat. I figured I’d keep going. There wasn’t much to go back to. 

It was a hike but finally I saw the end and indeed it seemed to lead to the platform. Unfortunately there was a gate. Nearing the end I hoped the gate was open but didn’t really expect it. I started to think about whether it was climbable, and whether I wanted the people on the platform to watch me with my office clothes and book tote and purse climbing a fence awkwardly and possibly unsuccessfully. Tough shit, I thought. But the latch turned and I made it through. 

On the other side, a sign said “No Public Entry, Access to Train Yard Only,” and even though I came from the no-sign side the first thing I thought of was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” 

As I went walking I saw a sign there: 
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." 
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top 10

Chanson Triste - Bidu Sayao (Duparc)
Rich Girl - Lake Street Dive (Hall & Oates)
The Magic - Joan as Policewoman 
Reptile - Lisa Germano
Factory - Martha Wainwright 
Jacob Marley’s Chain - Aimee Mann 
En Gallop - Joanna Newsom 
Louise - Bonnie Raitt  
Lived in Bars - Cat Power
Montparnasse - Jessye Norman (Poulenc)

(most listened to songs sung by women - home iTunes version)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Leertasten, or the keys to emptiness

When I touch the keys on my keyboard I feel each one is a kind of launch pad. I launch a word letter-by-letter, or I launch onto a new line with 'return,' or launch some emptiness onto the page with the space bar.

With the many busy-nesses I’ve had going lately I’m all the more appreciative of my spacebar art, an arrangement of old space bars at different stages of discoloration. In German they're called 'Leertasten," or "empty keys." I look at them in their clean white frame, left-aligned, like the lines of a potential poem. Like blank verse. Or a silent, ragged piano. 

I’ve mentioned Harald Geisler on my blog before. I supported his Sigmund Freud typeface and typography calendar campaigns, and I eat the air off one of his witty plates. His space bars make my little study seem larger, less crowded, and open to emptiness.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Colleagues who read

Pat was down-to-earth, frank, and smart. She was friendly but never tried to put a rosy glow on anything. She could turn my “I can’t talk now I have work” into an entertaining, 20-minute, largely one-sided conversation about her Ohio aunt’s miserable driving. A conversation she’s likely forgotten about Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier was for me what clinched our friendship. When she spoke German, her American accent made me afraid of my American accent.

And it was a most remarkable, a most moving glance, as if for a moment a lighthouse had looked at me.
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

Carl was guarded, and wary of co-workers in a “I’m only here to work” kind of way. I respected his space but it was difficult because he was the best-read colleague I ever had. Bolano, Houellebecq, McCarthy, Knausgaard. Despite his apparent ignorance of women writers, Carl was a magnet.

Where in this pukehole can a man get a drink? he said.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

James was a dork in the best way - stupid jokes, elaborating into absurdity, puns, and intellectual fetishes. He was my mirror image, with a beard. He lent me his copy of the silly Portuguese Irregular Verbs, a must for Germanophiles and Germanophobes. 

Professor Dr Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld often reflected on how fortunate he was to be exactly who he was, and nobody else. When one paused to think who one might have been had the accident of birth not happened precisely as it did, then, well, one could be quite frankly appalled.
Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs

Frieda was not terrific at her job and I was her boss so there was that. But she was an easy-going and curious person. She was lanky and modest, a great smiler with an engine of a laugh. She got excited about story ideas at first, but wasn't great on the follow-through. We swapped a number of books and never agreed about any of them and I was sorry to see her go.

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle

Hans and I sat next to each other for years. He was a bubbly snob who drove to work because only riff-raff take public transportation. Most of the office disliked him because he barked, but I enjoyed his good points. His favorite book was Brideshead Revisted, and though I wanted to do him the favor, I never read it. I am grateful to him for introducing me to John Banville, whom I’d not heard of and who has since enriched me immeasurably. 

This is the only way another creature can be known: on the surface, that's where there is depth.
John Banville, The Book of Evidence

Barbara and I are friends in any case and since they moved her desk opposite mine she has noddingly endured many of my book gushes. She lives out of town and thus only ever really shops at the train station, where she found a crappy bookstore that at odd times has some good English remainders. The other day she sent me an email from the shop: “I’m in the bookshop and they have The Luminaries. 5 euros. Should I get two?” Yes.

It is a feature of human nature to give what we most wish to receive.
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

Saturday, March 01, 2014


In like a bookmark, out like a lamb. 
In like a warhorse, out like a thaw. 
In like a hoof print, out like a flame.
In like a slinky, out like a shout.
In like a lion, out like a light.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Mice shouldn’t live in an office. No one should live in an office, but sometimes they do.

I don’t know what color our mice are. Grey, or maybe albino – visibly pink under the fur, making them more vulnerable to pain.

I found out about the mice because of the breakfast rolls in my desk, which seemed to be disintegrating. To investigate, I lay on the floor, and saw the tunnel up into the drawers.

It comes to this: our boss says not to keep food in the office. Some express outrage, less about the dictate than the fact of the mice. It’s a scandal, as if the mice have run us three rungs down the ladder.

Mice excel at hiding. Sometimes they hide by staying still. I would like to touch their feet. I imagine the toes like the teeth of a small, broken comb. 

One day I see a mouse rush out from under a desk. I tell you – it isn’t fear or revulsion that makes a person scream. It’s surprise, an underrated discomfort.

Our technician is put in charge of doing away with the mice. This seems cliché, I know, but he resents it.

The technician sets traps and the outrage spreads. Suddenly, worse than the fact of mice is the fact of the mice’s death. Some resent being exposed to the whole experience, and blame the company.

But the company is irrelevant. The boss tries to tell them that. Which company people work for has nothing to do with it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thing 3

I’ve had my share of rejections lately, and a share of everyone else’s, too. But I did get a welcome acceptance this week from Right Hand Pointing. They’re doing a May issue with three women poets, of which I’ll be one. I don’t know yet which poems will appear as they’re going to whittle down the 10 I submitted to six, but look forward to it. I have a few other poems due out this month which I’ll post as soon as it happens. Otherwise I got rejections recently from Stoneboat, Swarm and Radar! At least it didn’t take them months and months to do it.

In print, I’m happy to say I’ll have poems in two anthologies this year. The first is Not Somewhere Else But Here from the splendid Sundress Publications, a collection of poems about place. My poems are “Europa” and “Good Wife of Hunan,” so I’ve got the Old World and southern China covered. 

My poem “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” will also be in an anthology about saints called St. Peter’s B-list, due in April. As I noted when my poem was accepted, I am by far the least famous poet in the book. Among the luminaries are James Tate and Mary Karr, while the saints include St. Agnes, St. Rita, Big Sur Saints, the patron saint of lost & found, and St. Nick. You can see the table of contents and sample poems here

Finally, print-wise, two of my typeface poems will be in the 2014 RHINO, which also comes out in April. I’m thrilled about the acceptance, having had poems in RHINO a couple times and loving the work they publish. My poems are "Typeface #77" (Moog) and "Typeface #71" (Flotilla Bold), which reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2, and is perhaps not so far off. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

All the Presidents' Furniture

I was reading about Freud a month ago and recall someone saying the couch where his patients reclined was the world’s most famous piece of furniture. That made me think about other famous pieces of furniture, such as the chair that Van Gogh immortalized.

If I weren’t American maybe I’d have better examples (the knights’ round table!) but for me a lot of famous furniture is presidential: the desk in the Oval Office, JFK’s rocking chair, and FDR’s wheelchair. When I mentioned this recently it led to a discussion on whether a wheelchair is proper ‘furniture.’ A friend with a loved one in a wheelchair argued it was an instrument of mobility and absolutely not furniture. While primarily a mobilizer, as soon as a wheelchair pulls up to a desk or a table it also serves as furniture. Anyone can park one in the living room, whether they need it to get around or not. Same with a dentist's chair. No disrespect intended.

Many things not designed to be furniture end up as furniture. Take those cable spools that get made into coffee tables. Or milk crates used as modular shelving. A sail can become an indoor hammock. Today I saw a horse carriage seat repurposed as a bench

Anyway, back to the presidents. Surely the best piece of “presidential furniture” is Thomas Jefferson’s revolving book stand. I thought of it this President’s Day when I was sitting at my desk, my eyes traveling from a newspaper, to a book to the computer screen. I think of the stand, which holds five books, as a precursor to internet tabs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Todd Rundgren's Can We Still Be Friends. Don't ask me why a song that has nothing to do with me makes me want to cry. Want to, but not actually do it, because the song is also strangely uplifting.
This song came out in 1978 but I never heard it until the early 80s, courtesy of my freshman roommate, the marvelous Amy N. Maybe the song reminds me of her (LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA!), since I wish we were still friends. Her parents were very practical, and she left our liberal arts college to study nursing elsewhere. When she began considering becoming a midwife I got all over her to do it because it impressed me as the coolest job ever. I always felt like I kind of pushed her, but by all accounts she is very happy being a midwife. I, on the other hand, had impractical parents and never had much of a notion what exactly I wanted to do. I just figured it would all work out. Which I guess it did. Einigermassen. (Sort of).
Anyway, although my son wonders why anyone buys music "since you can listen to it for free on YouTube," I spent 99 cents on Can We Still Be Friends on Monday, and have since listened to it about 28-32 times - on the train, in the elevator, trudging through the wet grass to work. If a look around reveals no one nearby, I sing it out loud. So I consider it 99 cents well spent.
Like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Carol King, Todd Rundgren doesn't immediately strike you as a great vocalist, but in the end it doesn't matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014


You’ve probably seen the hashtag #readwomen2014, and news of the accompanying campaign to make 2014 the year of reading books by women. I’d like to throw in my recommendations. Below my list of 14 great fiction and non-fiction books by women published as of 1980. I went contemporary to keep the Brontes and George Eliot off the list. Because you’ve read them. 
I also omitted poetry, which I’m going to do separately.

I can count but since I really wanted to include two books published before 1980 I added them as a bonus at bottom. I’d love to see other people’s lists of 14. 

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2010 fiction) 
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009 fiction)
This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008 American history) 
Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (2005 reportage) 
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2005 fiction)
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (2005 short stories)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005 memoir) 
Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis (2001 short stories)
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (2000 fiction) 
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (1997 history) 
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995 fiction)
The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller (1994 fiction) 
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (1983 fiction) 
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1980 memoir)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974)
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody (1968) 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Week that was

Drank: Chamomile Tea
Saw: Two people helping an elderly woman walk against the wind
Disliked: My lingering cold
Read: "The Orphan Master’s Son" by Adam Johnson 
Watched: Doubt with Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman
Composed this note for the ladies’ room: 'Who keeps wadding kitchen paper towels together and stuffing them into the bathroom stall toilet paper roll with the toilet paper? Is it some harebrained attempt to 'save' paper, in this case paper that someone took too much of, and then forced on anyone who had to use the bathroom?'
Laughed at: This epic battle
Ate: Ciobar, Italian hot chocolate that’s more like hot pudding in a cup
Listened to: Robert Coover read Italo Calvino’s story “The Daughters of the Moon”
Bought: "Katz und Maus" by Günter Grass, which my son needs for German class 
Learned: Americans are split on whether to pronounce 'mayonnaise' as "man-aze" or "may-uh-naze"
Enjoyed: Hot bath with camphor and eucalyptus

Pithiness of the week: “If you run after two hares you will catch neither.” - Erasmus

Friday, February 07, 2014


Happy Charles Dickens’ birthday.

I was lucky to add The Pickwick Papers to the asset side of my reading equation last month, a buoyant, rich and very funny book. As Dickens’ first book, you see the seed of some of his later work here: the interminable law suits (Bleak House), the beloved relative in the debtors’ prison (Little Dorrit), the finger-wagging spirits (A Christmas Carol), and more. 

This book was the favorite of both Fernando Pessoa and Giuseppe Lampedusa, and such high-brow admiration made me a bit afraid of what it would be like. I’d also heard there wasn’t much of a story line, so I worried. Would there be a plot? Would there be characters to follow? Wouldn’t it suck if I didn’t like it? 

I worried for naught, for though the narrative is somewhat liquid, running off on various tangents, there is a plot to frame it, and the characters are marvelous, especially --as anyone who’s read it knows -- Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s servant. Mr. Pickwick himself radiates benevolence, and as always with Dickens, the outright melodrama of it all is like a little kindling in your hands. 

Dickens is a great observer, and his scenes and dialogues can be hilarious. Take, for example, Sam Weller’s father’s explanation of the character of pike keepers:

"Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir."
"A what?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"A pike-keeper."
"What do you mean by pike-keeper?" inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.
"The old 'un means a turnpike keeper, gen'l'm'n," observed Mr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.
"Oh," said Mr. Pickwick, "I see. Yes; very curious life. Very uncomfortable."
"They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointment in life," said Mr. Weller senior.
"Ay, ay?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, and shuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of being solitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind, by takin' tolls."
"Dear me," said Mr. Pickwick, "I never knew that before."

Hey, me neither! But now I do. 

Like Pessoa, I can now say that a great tragedy of my life is having read The Pickwick Papers, since I can never read it for the first time again.

Monday, February 03, 2014

I'd also rather walk 10 mins to the next stop than sit waiting 15 mins for the next bus

I’m glad to be from a planet that didn’t know heroin was snortable.

I stayed home again. I spent days under the lurch of sore limbs, head like a bucket of rocks and oil. Although better this morning, it was only in comparison. I thought of the expression “feeling human again” and reminded myself to question all set phrases because what are physical pain and suffering if not human? 

Not to leave out the other animals. 

After reading news the other day about the unfortunate who was strangled to death when her scarf, and then her hair, got caught in escalator steps, I dreamed I was a rescuer who carried scissors in her purse.

Escalators are one of my peeves, or rather escalator riders. Escalators were not invented to make you lazier, but to make you faster. You hasten your journey by walking up them instead of taking them as an invitation to stand still. You get a pass if your leg is broken or you are over 60. 

OK, 57.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The weight of heavy buttocks

In "In the Voice of a Minor Saint," my longest-ago chapbook, I had a poem called God Have Pity on the Smell of Gasoline. I was flipping through Yehuda Amichai's Selected Poetry today and remembered where the inspiration came from.

There are a lot of excellent poems in his book, and good titles, too. Like You Carry the Weight of Heavy Buttocks. And My Father in a White Space Suit. And Ballad of the Washed Hair. Never underestimate the power of a good title. It will win you friends.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Goodbye January

It wasn’t a great month. Nothing but poetry rejections. I fell on an escalator and gashed my shins. I ate too much, including apples. And at the end I got a cold with a sore throat and a painful cough, each one like a bullet being shot both from me and at me. So much for the apple-a-day theory. 

I called in sick yesterday and lay completely wiped out in bed. A headache made it impossible to read, so I listened to two New Yorker fiction podcasts and picked the duds. Later I was able to read a little of the book I recently began, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and even 100 pages into it I’m not sure what this book is trying to do. The effusive blurbs make me think I’ve missed the boat. Oh, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. 

So being sick sucks, and let us hope February is a step up from January, which is always too damned long anyway. 

Oh, here’s a good thing: Kathleen Kirk sent me her chapbook Interior Sculpture, a collection of poems about the sculptor Camille Claudel. Kathleen is a terrific poet and the poems work wonderfully. Thank you, Kathleen, for the bright spot.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

the week past

Ate: Mushrooms with walnuts and gruyere
Bought: Tickets for Momix Botanica
Received: Joanna Newsom’s Ys from a colleague
Saw: A photo of an angry man that was also funny
Disliked: Poetry rejections
Watched: Raiders of the Lost Ark 
Rolled my eyes at: The short life of Frankfurt snow
Ordered: The Waste Books for my father
Cried over: The melodrama of The Pickwick Papers
Listened to: Le Nozze di Figaro
Drank: Nebbiolo 

Pithiness of the week: “Nothing can contribute more to a soul's peace than the lack of any opinion whatsoever.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let Us Now Praise Small Apples

As the world knows I’m eating an apple a day in January. I have sought out odd sorts and gone to organic groceries and put aside my prejudice for unbruised beauty.

Alas, despite passing fancies, I have not been swayed into the fan club. The big whoop today was finding some tasty, tight apples that were petite, and it struck me that supermarkets generally carry apples the size of bocce balls. That might impress you, but taste and texture-wise is not always Eden. Anyway, I’m going to make it to month’s end, helped by downsizing. 

Meanwhile, I have been asked the describe varieties, and since I worry about falling short, I include musical equivalents. 

Topaz - Since I was looking to sample apples I hadn’t yet tried, I bought a couple of these. Also, they were small and small apples have less room to fail. This was a wonderful apple. Compact and the opposite of mealy, they kept my attention through the whole feast. High-spirited, crisp and not over-sweet. If it were a song it would be by these boys

Pinova - Wasn’t this one of Columbus’s ships? The Pinova was smooth and tasty, mellower than the Topaz. If I had to compare the mood and experience of this apple to a song it would be this lovely standard, though the song outshines the apple. 

Elstar - I would have stayed away from Elstar because it is ubiquitous, and because the name reminds me of the failed Ford Edsel. But I was in a bad spot and needed an apple to fulfill my resolution. First go-round I did the flick-the-flesh test and got home with a good one. Second time, too. So I changed my mind about Elstar, whose song should this pop tune

Jonagold - Cosmetically this was perfect. It being my first Jonagold in a while I decided to cut it rather than bite into it. The signs were good - it was wet and seemed dense; the knife met resistance and made a crunchy sound slicing through. But, though it wasn’t mealy, the flesh didn’t put up enough resistance. I ate most of it but threw a bit away, lest I choke à la Snow White. It’s like a chanson that sounds and looks good but lacks substance and loses audience interest.

Golden Delicious - A dull, one-dimensional experience, abandoned halfway through. Like this song, who on earth knows why it's so popular. 

Braeburn - Another of the ubiquitous. But from the organic shop, small and obviously not part of some mass industrial harvest, it looked demure and perky, as if it might bounce if I dropped it. It was sweet, crisp and juicy, upbeat as apples should be. Charming, and much appreciated, as this ditty

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Seven-minute hours

I was stuck on trains again last week. With seven minutes between connections in Fulda, my train from Frankfurt left 20 minutes late, and after they closed the doors for good we were informed that construction work meant we would delayed a full hour. On the way back I missed my train, and had to wait an hour in the dark cold for the next one in Middle-of-Nowhere, Germany, where most of the trains slam past without thought of stopping. Don’t listen to those who complain about the country’s low birthrate. The platform was alive with young people and their junk food and their cursing and their bad fashion decisions.
Very reassuring.

The upside was I chomped through a goodly portion of "The Pickwick Papers," and even listened to two New Yorker fiction podcasts: Richard Ford reading John Cheever’s “Reunion” (12 mins), and Joshua Ferris reading George Saunders’ “Adams” (22 mins), both of which involve fathers. The stories are short and have a great punch, and I recommend listening to them (and the discussions that follow) with all my heart. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014


As part of a project I recently looked into positive adjectives often paired with “reader.” 

The most common is “avid,” which clocks in on google with 14.3 million results. “Avid,” of course, means “with eagerness,” suggesting the person reads gladly. It suggests an attitude rather than a quantity or quality.

Next comes “voracious reader,” with 862,000 results. “Voracious” is most often used in the context of food and suggests a big appetite, thus connoting that a person reads in great quantities. 

“Enthusiastic,” a synonym for “avid,” comes in third with 125,000 results. Again it indicates an attitude rather than being necessarily related to taste or quantity. 

Then comes “ravenous reader,” with 37,600 results, an alternative to “voracious.” 

Then comes the slightly oddball “omnivorous reader,” with 37,300 results.

Let me get all schoolmarmy and say an “omnivorous reader” does not necessarily read heaps of books, although that is implied. Rather, s/he reads indiscriminately, devouring everything from pulp fiction to Balkan history to tofu cookbooks to steampunk sci-fi to crime, etc., regardless of genre. In my opinion, one cannot be “an omnivorous reader of social science,” for example, because it already limits the scope.

While “omnivorous” may emphasize curiosity, it demands the reader cease to be discriminating. In the spirit of abandoning books, is that a positive thing? I start to doubt such a reader exists. You’ve got to care little for what you do with your time. 

By the way, last on my list is “prodigious reader,” with 18,700 results. The word “prodigious,” which shares its root with "prodigy," emphasizes accomplishment over appetite, intention or attitude. The first definition in Webster says “wonderful,” and thus this may be the best of all readers.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The pear door was ill

His mother was a French-speaking seamistress - - (seamstress)

Hillary Clinton doubts new haircut, bangs - - (debuts)

Walking the dog in the Aspirin snow - - (Aspen)

Persimmon grows over chances of EU deal - - (pessimism)

Kim Jong Un hails execution of powerful nude - - (uncle)

The pear door was ill - - (poor dear)

Newengland’s suicide exposes women’s plight in India - - (newlywed’s)

Cruise hammered over war mosquitoes - - (misquotes)

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Crepe Paper Body

I hate all of love as if it were a single person.
I’ve watched so much smoke drifting off
like the thoughts of someone extremely sick.

I’ve rented a room to be alone with myself,
not wanting to be glutted
about having been hot, at having felt cold.

What would be the outcome of everything
if I tell you that in the branches of my bed
the smoke of volcanoes attires me in its vapors?

I dread the ruin which is due to me,
the woman with the crepe paper body –

high, low, all the time,
here and there impetuous fires.

Robert Desnos -One Day When It Was Night Out/ Tristan Tzara -Highway Single Sun/ Antonin Artaud -Moon/ Blaise Cendrars -In the World’s Heart/ Pierre Reverdy -Waterfall/ Paul Eluard -Painted Words/ Tristan Tzara -Song V/ Paul Eluard -Poetry Ought To Have a Practical Purpose/ Robert Desnos -The Voice of Robert Desnos/ Jacques Dupin -Waiting/André Breton -A Branch of Nettles Enters Through the Window/ René Daumal -Sad Little Round of Life/ Paul Eluard -From the Depth of the Abyss

Friday, January 03, 2014

From Ariane to Zabergau

For about 5 minutes on New Year’s Day I had the insane idea to eat an apple a day this year in the spirit of the old adage. The biggest obstacle to such a resolution is that I don’t really like apples. They're not altogether unappetizing, but bad experience has turned me off because it is too easy to get a mealy one. There is little worse than taking a bite of an apple and having it go all grainy in your mouth. Horrible.

But I do like a firm apple, and as a word person I’d love if there were more varieties with romantic and evocative names available. This great article mentions the Blue Pearmain, Pound Sweet, Wolf River and Black Oxford. I would try those just for the bragging rights.
If I could get my hands on them. As in the US, in Germany supermarkets offer the same ubiquitous varieties ad nauseam:  Pink Lady, the two Deliciouses, Granny Smith, Fuji, Braeburn, Jonagold, and Royal Gala. If I could drive I could get out to the nearby orchards and get other kinds, but alas, I am not licensed to access unusual apples.
Still, as of today I’m signing up for an apple-a-day January, and will see how it goes. Today I’m doing an Elstar, originally a cross between the Golden Delicious and Ingrid Marie apples. I am not brave enough to bite right into it, but will be using a sharp knife. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

How much 14 there has been in existence

César Vallejo cuts a sad and driven figure. He was a Peruvian who lived the last quarter of his life in Europe, mostly poor and in bad straits. His poetry was dark and surreal, original and haunted. His most famous poem is probably Black Stone Lying on a White Stone, a fabulous poem.

With 2014 coming over the past few days I’ve been thinking of Vallejo’s poem “Anniversary.” Like so much of his poetry, “Anniversary” mesmerizes. It comes to me often when I encounter the number 14. I don’t know what 14th anniversary he is immortalizing, but for all its mystery, “Anniversary” seems one of his more affirmative poems, to the detriment of 15! 

I give you below the first stanza. Google “César Vallejo anniversary 14” and Google Books will gift you the whole thing. I will tuck Vallejo in my pocket and keep him with me this year.


How much 14 there has been in existence!
What credits with mist on a corner!
What a synthetic diamond the skull is!
The lengthier 
the sweetness, the deeper the surface,
how much 14 there has been in such a small 1!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Where I've been

After I snuck a last one in today, here are the books I read this year. Those I'd recommend strongly are marked with an *. I've linked to a random scattering of reviews, too, just for the hell of it. 

Fiction: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes was most remarkable.
Non-fiction: The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, with honorable mentions to Bonhoeffer and Voices from Chernobyl.
Poetry: Nets by Jen Bervin was favorited for the concept as well as the poetry itself, which was rivaled by Sestets.
Short fiction: Tenth of December by George Saunders, followed closely by No One Belongs Here More Than You.

59. The Mansion of Happiness by Robin Ekiss (Dec 31)
58. Television Without Pity by Tara Ariano (Dec 22)
57. Sometimes There Are Travails by Lisa Ciccarello (Dec 22)
56. The Other History by Scott T. Starbuck (Dec 14)
55. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Dec 7)
54. Phèdre by Jean Racine (Nov 29)
*53. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (Nov 20)
52. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht (Nov 13)
51. Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt by GR Reader (Nov 11)
50. Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith (Nov 5)
*49. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Nov 3)
*48. Voices from Chernobyl by Sveltlana Alexevich (Oct 28)
47. If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Oct 22)
46. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (Oct 21)
45. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Oct 17)
44. Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan (Oct 12)
43. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Oct 10)
42. The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth (Sep 28)
41. Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl by Gert Hofmann (Sep 3)
40. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (Aug 28)
*39. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq (Aug 17)
38. The Old Child by Jenny Erpenbeck
*37. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright (July)
36. The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett (July)
35. Whispers of the Dead by Simon Beckett (July 14)
*34. Tenth of December by George Saunders (Jul 10)
33. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (July)
*32. The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelenick
*31. Ophelia Unraveling by Carol Berg (June)
*30. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (June 21)
29. Morte D’Urban by JF Powers (May 25)
*28. This is Not a Novel by David Markson (May 4)
27. Under the Skin by Michel Faber (April 29)
26. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam (April 25)
*25. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (April 21)
24. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes (April 20)
*23. Nets by Jen Bervin (April 20)
22. Dog Ear by Erica Baum (April 12)
21. After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey (April 9)
20. The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd (April 9)
19. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (April 5)
*18. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (March 19)
17. In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan (Mar 15)
16. The Complete Perfectionist by Juan Ramón Jimenéz (Mar 15)
*15. Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Mar 12)
*14. Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Böll (Feb 26)
13. Sex with Buildings by Stephanie Barbe Hammer (Feb 19)
12. Corner Office by J. Hope Stein (Feb 18)
*11. Talking Doll by J. Hope Stein (Feb 15)
10. The Quiet Winter by Carrie Bennett (Feb. 9)
9. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (Feb. 8)
8. The Infinities by John Banville (Feb 7)
7. The Big No by George Grosz (Feb)
6. Almanac of the Sleepless by Karin Gottshall (Feb 7)
*5. Sestets by Charles Wright (Feb 6)
4. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (Jan. 26)
*3. Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson (Jan. 21)
2. The Best of Fence, ed. Rebecca Wolff (Jan)
1. Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey (Jan. 18)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Threshing song

The past was a hectic time. It was full of kings and beheadings, word coinage, and tunneling out of prison. Dynasties fell. It is believed the ball came before the wheel, the egg before the deviling. There were wars that went on for years and more years; there was a lot of sex, food left uneaten, bookburnings, and tribal and disco dancing. Rules were made up, then changed (read: broken). People got born by the billions.

The invention of the telephone was followed by a lot of senseless and overlapping jabbering. Statistics established average intelligence. Wires crossed, and obesity rode the airwaves. Many flea markets ended with more junk unsold than sold. Dump trucks lugged some surplus to the ocean, which solved one problem while fathering another. 

The past keeps adding up. Some days when I’m struggling with what on earth to make for dinner, I’m glad when it's behind me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Year of Abandoned Books

Years ago, my husband had a bookmark listing “The Rights of the Reader.” Along with the right to skip, to dip in, and to mistake fiction for real life, was the all-important right to give up. No one likes to, but sometimes it is a worse decision to press on.

For me, it was a year of abandoned books. True to my half-hearted promise of giving up on books that --given a fair trial-- look like they won't pay off, I drop-kicked a number of titles in 2013. 

“Songs for the Missing,” a novel of a suburban girl who goes missing, failed to make me care. The word ‘boring’ comes to mind. 

My "Lost Illusions" experience was sad and disappointing. I'd really wanted to read the book this year, but the typo/error/major screw-up on p. 1 left me shell-shocked.

“Fatal Vision,” sorry, was just badly written. Good try, true crime. 

Ditto “No Apology” by Mitt Romney, which came off as a self-celebratory and poorly written campaign speech. 

At Good Reads, I ranted about “Galileo’s Daughter,” which turned me off as a feminist, and drew a comment from a fellow reader about what a shallow and immature person I am. I was sorry to get dragged into that, but hey, after much soul-searching I still agree with everything I said. Smile. 

"Birdsong," a WWI novel that had been on my to-read pile for years, was a disappointment I ditched. The ooey-gooey sex did me in - how Isabelle realized she was "born" to have sex with Stephen, to be "impaled" by him, and to feel his "sticky seed" between her legs. Oh, come ON

Richard Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar,” a classic of hippie America, was written in a little boy voice that got my eyes rolling. “I get that it's supposed to be simple and innocent, but it would be helpful if it were also good,” I said in a brief review. 

There was a faint odor of something foul lurking through the pages of “The Tiger’s Wife,” which was only fully revealed after I gave up a good lick through and discovered the schmalzy acknowledgements.

Alas! I abandoned a couple others that are not worth noting. I read a lot of worthwhile books, too, which I’ll highlight as part of my year-end list in the next couple days.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The week in hindsight

Learned: the Italian word for ‘rodent’ is ‘roditore,’ which sounds very grand, and means “he who gnaws"
Saw: Albrecht Dürer exhibition at the Städel 
Disliked: what the smell of Kentucky Fried Chicken at the airport at 7 am did to my headache and stomachache 
Read: obituaries online
Ate: Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes)
Bought: chunky candles
Skipped: dessert (tiramisu - who can eat the equivalent of 2 dinners after dinner?)
Drank: Primitivo (Puglia)
Received: 2 rejections (Ninth Letter & Tin House)
Watched: Sherlock Holmes episode “The Illustrious Client” 
Rolled my eyes at: Horn honkers in gridlock. You built it, you suffer it. 
Ordered: The Brontes and Mr. Peanut 
Cried over: People greeting their loved ones at the airport. Yeah, I suck at airports. 
Listened to: pages turning, ambulances, people talking with their mouths full 

Pithiness of the week: "To be totally understanding makes one very indulgent."-Baroness De Stael-Holstein 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Robert Oppenheimer went to New Mexico as a youth to recuperate from tuberculosis. He later said he had two loves, physics and New Mexico. Would there be a way to combine them?

Eugene O'Neill had TB, as did Paul Éluard. Albert Camus suffered TB, an ailment compounded by heavy smoking, but though TB toiled away for years, a car crash killed Camus within seconds.

My cousin Christopher, whose middle name was Camus, was killed in the Catskills by a hit-and-run driver, never apprehended.

Emma Goldman ranted incessantly about how stupid people are. Asked by her long-time companion, Alexander Berkman, how she could reconcile that conviction with her drive for anarchy, she was unable to answer the question. 

Watching the 'gadget' explode in Los Alamos in 1945, Oppenheimer thought of the lines from the Bhagavda Gita, "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Miles away a girl who had been blind from birth saw the light of the explosion.

Centuries ago, the existence of mermaids was widely accepted as true. In winter 1493, Columbus wrote in his journal that three of the creatures had been sighted off the coast. They "rose well out of the sea, but were not so beautiful as they paint them."

Thanks for Meghan Howland for the image. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Lost Faith

I began Lost Illusions yesterday. It opens auspiciously in a print shop, and Balzac describes who was called a ‘monkey’ in the printing industry in those times, and who a ‘bear.’ The distinction had to do with a person's motions, which reminded me of Apollinaire’s poem “At the Santé:” Every morning I pace my pit like a bear.

The narrator talks about the transformation of printing, and how equipment then becoming obsolete had once brought "the beautiful books printed by Elzevir, Plantin, Aldus Didot, and the rest..." Wow, I thought. I like the typeface Didot - I will have to look up Aldus Didot.

I looked up Didot, indeed the name of a family of French typesetters, though none of them named Aldus. Well, I thought, maybe Balzac invented him, this being a work of fiction. But that would be weird since the Didots were real, and Elzevir and Plantin were also breathing people who now have typefaces named after them, and in fact, Aldus, too, is a typeface in and of itself..... ummm….

Helped by Amazon’s “Look Inside” function, I read the first page of Illusions Perdues in French, which said: "...les beaux livres des Elzevier, des Plantin, des Alde et des Didot…"

One needn’t be a French scholar to see the “and” separating Alde/us from Didot. In other words, there should have been a comma between them, or an “and.” Aldus Didot wasn’t meant to be a first and surname. I was so dismayed by this glaring error on the very first page - whether the translator’s or the proofreader’s - that I was unable to read any more of this untrustworthy edition, published by the way by Modern Library Classics!

And that is how I began The Pickwick Papers.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Week's Hindsight

Learned: the word lalochezia, the use of foul language to relieve stress
Saw: Phèdre (decent acting, horrible play)
Heard: Anita O’Day sing You Came a Long Way from St. Louis
Made a (birthday) wish: can’t say what, but it wasn’t for me
Bought: wrinkle cream (see above)
Read: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Skipped: the office Christmas party
Drank: Rioja
Received: the muscular blooms pictured 
Resolved: sit-ups!
Honored: with a Pushcart Prize nomination for my poem ‘Gacela of Ash
Watched: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (umpteenth time)
Rolled my eyes at: person who followed a limping old man into the supermarket shouting at him for parking in a handicap spot without a sticker
Laughed: about these truths
Cried: yup

Pithiness of the week: Our virtues are most frequently but vices in disguise (La Rochefaucauld)

I stole this roundup idea from philoku, a German design blog. Resolve to learn German! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In Late November

The ivory that is almost grey.
The cool that could pass for cold.

Seven winds delivered in one gust
on the afternoon cut short by dark.

Isn’t the lack of distinction sometimes too much?
And then the craze for being grateful.

Let me go off-script, and 
play the jaded femme fatale.

Except for my book of Kenneth Patchen 
poems, I don’t feel grateful at all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The movie deal

'Grassland' by Sarah Sloat from Nic Sebastian on Vimeo.

Thanks to Nic Sebastian, wizard queen of many multimedia poetry projects, for this reading and video of my poem Grassland.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Next time I should read the acknowledgements before buying

I recently read and gave up on The Tiger’s Wife. After I decided to go no further, I turned to the acknowledgements, which began:

"I am forever indebted to:
My parents, whose faith is boundless and unfaltering; my baby brother, A., the best illustrator ever; my grandmother, Z., who is a rock.
MK, my traveling companion, diapers to dentures - whose tolerance of late-night phone calls was indispensable to the completion of this book, and whose wit and wisdom have reconnected me to my roots.
AZ, who is a force of nature in everything he touches. We’ve travelled so far, we two.
PS, for giving me the birthday present that set me back on the right path again, and whose love keeps lifting me higher."

That’s about 1/3 of the acknowledgements.

I then read No One Belongs Here More Than You, which I enjoyed. After I finished, I turned to the acknowledgements, which said:

"I’d like to thank each of the following people for their part in helping me make this book: FM, RM, NG, SC and MM."

That was it. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One terrible thing

In a story I was reading today came the question: What is the most terrifying thing that ever happened to you?

This is hard because you really have to mine your memory. As always I am afraid I will give the wrong answer and that once I give an answer that I won’t be able to change it, as if there were some superpower somewhere keeping track. Of course this is counter-productive and neurotic and prevents the person questioned (me) from even approaching the question, being so preoccupied about the conditions. I had the same problem last month when a friend asked me to name my three favorite Elvis Costello songs were. (WAS NOT ABLE.)

Anyway, I tried to get over that and can tell you one of the first things that comes to my mind, the thing that sifts to the top early on in the memory-mining. 

For Easter I go with my husband and kids (6 and 4?) to London to visit friends. In turn we are invited to friends of theirs for dinner and we set out on the tube to a balmy, upscale suburb. On the way, we arrive at a stop and our friend remembers at the last moment that we should get out. We frantically jump out, grabbing all our stuff, which is voluminous since they have a small child and our children are also not big. We are on the platform with baby buggy, etc. and all, and suddenly she says, “NO! This is the wrong stop!” and exhorts us all to jump back on to the train. 

We do. I am a bit annoyed but to top it off as I am turning around I notice that my daughter is still on the platform and I haven’t a second to do anything but gear up to freak when she realizes herself that she must get in urgently and she takes a long-legged leap through the closing doors, the swoosh of which is burned into my brainplate, and I am so grateful and at the same time (perhaps unjustly) pissed off that I nearly left my daughter behind at an abandoned stop in a foreign city. 

But I didn’t.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I saw Blue Jasmine over the weekend, the semi-new Woody Allen movie with Cate Blanchett. It’s the first Woody Allen movie I’ve seen in a long time. Aside from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I watched on a plane, I haven’t seen any of his movies since 1994.

The movie owes a lot to A Streetcar Named Desire, but knowing that isn’t crucial. Having read/seen Streetcar might enrich your viewing, but not having seen it shouldn’t bother anyone. 

Anyway, after seeing the movie, which even my husband liked, I googled some reviews to see what critics thought. I saw this roundtable review, in which one of the critics says that Blanchett’s character Jasmine (née Jeanette) has no redeeming qualities.

Wow, I thought. NO redeeming qualities. Was it really true? Did I feel better about my husband’s disliking her now that a reviewer confirmed she was a worthless person? Sort of. Still, I would like to point out that 1) she’s gorgeous, and 2) she has great taste in clothes. Last I heard, those were qualities worth having, as selfish and delusional as one might be. 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Bon appétit

I got this plate from Harald Geisler, a typographer I met a few months ago. He inscribed this old plate with the title of an essay by Hannah Arendt called “Wahrheit und Politik,” or “Truth and Politics.” According to the old adage, the latter makes strange bedfellows, while the former sets you free. So eat up, folks.

Arendt’s essay begins: 
"No one has ever doubted that truth & politics are on rather bad terms with each other, & no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary & justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the statesman’s trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, & for the nature and the dignity of truth & truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent & of the very essence of power to be deceitful? And what kind of reality does truth possess if it is powerless in the public realm, which more than any other sphere of human life guarantees reality of existence to natal and mortal men – that is, to beings who know they have appeared out of non-being & will, after a short while, again disappear into it?” You can read the whole essay here

Harald decided to make this plate after he got fed up with always finding a logo on glasses, cups and plates - usually an IKEA label. I like how the two roses could themselves be "truth" and "politics," though which is which I don't know. Harald is mostly busy creating typography, but he does have a couple other plates, and every year he puts together a cool calendar using computer keys. If I were to buy something else from him, it would definitely be this arrangement of space bars.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

House of cards

After the kids leave, I convert the second bedroom of my mother’s apartment into a bachelor pad. I deflate the air mattress Miles was sleeping on, and set the rickety card table up into a small, soft-lit paradise of books. I hold office there, taking notes on nothing, listening to the crickets. It definitely encourages nightowlness.

I finished Revolutionary Road on my trip, and now feel I never need to drink a martini. I also read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I found on my sister's shelf. It warned me sufficiently of Swedish mosquitoes.

Unable to find Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl in either of the big used bookstores I visited, I borrowed it from my mother’s library. It’s a devastating book. You can eat all the radiation you want, but you'll have to bury your shit in your head. 

I picked up poetry books by Sappho, Tao Lin, Michael Ondaatje and Alison Titus. In the poetry aisle of a bookstore I got into a conversation with a bearded gentleman. He asked me who my favorite poets were. My first (unrehearsed, unhesitant) answer was Charles Wright. 

In Future Tense, he wrote:

All things in the end are bittersweet—
An empty gaze, a little way-station just beyond silence.
If you can’t delight in the everyday,
                                                         you have no future here.
And if you can, no future either.

And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
                                                            and lick your lean cheeks,
And lie down beside you—warm, real close—and will not move. 

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