Something to Read: The Nun by Denis Diderot

 A beneath-the-wimple exposé

A beneath-the-wimple exposé

I don’t always make a practice of grabbing books from an exchange shelf since, as a rule, they are pretty dreadful. Discarded textbooks, romance novels, memoirs of an accountant, etc. So it’s always fun to run across something worthwhile and surprising. 

And what a surprise! The jacket copy on the Penguin Classics version of Diderot’s The Nun describes the book as a long practical joke: Diderot was seeking to swindle the Marquis de Croismare into believing his fictional account of an illegitimate child pressed into a nunnery against her will. The Marquis was apparently appalled by the petty cruelty of France’s religious institutions and Diderot sought to capture that cruelty in fiction. The book was considered too scandalous in its time—it was written in 1758—and so was published posthumously, in 1796, after the French revolution.

What the jacket fails to describe is that the book is also a piece of mid-18th century lesbian French erotica: a genre that I heretofore did know existed. Here, for example, is a representative passage from the latter half of the book:

 

She whispered: ‘Suzanne, my dear, come a bit nearer.’ She held out her arms, but I had my back to her; she took me gently and pulled me towards her, passed her right arm under my body and the other above and said: ‘I am frozen, and so cold that I am afraid to touch you for fear of hurting you.’

‘Dear Mother, you need not be afraid of that.’

“Immediately she put one hand on my breast and the other round my waist, her feet were under mine, and I pressed them so as to warm them, and she said: ‘Oh my dear, see how my feet have warmed up at once because there is nothing between them and yours.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘what is there to prevent you from warming yourself everywhere in the same way?’

‘Nothing if you are willing.’

I had turned round, and she had opened her nightdress, and I was on the point of doing the same when suddenly there were two violent blows on the door…

 

Who knew that the origins of bodice-heaver were so old? 

Even without its prurient appeal, the book has its charms. It’s yet another great example of what seems to me to be the absolute essence of storytelling: give your audience sympathy for a character and then make dreadful things happen to her. That is, more or less, the pattern this book (novel? False memoir?) follows from the beginning to the end. Our heroine, Suzanne Simonin, is dainty, charming, and innocent. And then she is abused left, right, and center. 

Suzanne’s very existence reminds her mother of the carnal sin that brought her into existence, and so the mother refuses Suzanne her dowry and banishes her into the religious life. Knowing she is not cut out for Christian duty, Suzanne seeks to escape her vows and thus incurs the wrath of her mother superior and sister nuns. She is beaten, kept awake, forced to eat ash-laden food, given a hair shirt, abused with ropes, kept in solitary confinement, starved, mocked, and lashed.

Diderot keeps alive some faint hope of Suzanne’s escape and so we read on. Suzanne moves to a new monastery, where her soul is exposed to the mortal threat of the aforementioned lesbian eroticism. She resists (mostly), and is shunned by her sisters. Then she escapes, is subjected to the amorous advances of men in the outside world, and suffers terribly. It’s all very compelling, very juicy, and oh so French. It is, in short, the perfect read for an evening in a country house, whether you are a 21st-century literary voyeur or a gullible 18th-century Marquis.

 

The West Highland Way

 Embarking through a rare bit of sunlight

Embarking through a rare bit of sunlight

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Our goal is to walk a bunch. We are coming up fast on Dad’s seventy fifth birthday, and he has taken to marking his age with feats of distance walking. He turned sixty-five on the Tour du Mont Blanc, a ten-day walk through Switzerland, France, and Italy. We have photos to prove he was there. I was there too, but blew out my knee on the sixth day, meaning that I am no longer willing to compete with my father for who can walk farther. He can.

The walking starts in a village called Milngavie that is pronounced ‘Mull-Guy.’ Scottish  towns, from my brief experience, are named after digestive noises. Other towns on the route include Balmaha (post-prandial muttering), Rowardennan (soda in a full stomach), and Crianlarich (into the toilet bowl). We take a commuter train from Glasgow to Milngavie on which a chatty Scot conductor asks where we are from, and, upon hearing, sets his arm down on the back of the seat in front of us and starts to opine about the Scottish countryside and why people might visit it. During a stop, we observe a man try to sneak onto the train without purchasing a ticket. The conductor observes him too and says chasing down the fee isn’t worth the effort. 

 My own mapping...

My own mapping...

The town of Milgavie is a yuppie suburban enclave with a pleasant high street and a few shops. My sister, Teal, has recently birthed my six-month-old nephew, Jax, and so she buys all of the baby formula and diapers available (British Airways lost her bags), and we embark. The first day is long but reasonably comfortable. We see cattle, we see an abundance of heather, we see sunlight one last time. We march through fields next to a road and stop at a pleasant pub for lunch.

 Mark, Jax, and Willa embark

Mark, Jax, and Willa embark

In the evening, we arrive in Drymen (pronounced ‘Drimmon’), where a charming and solicitous couple of innkeepers usher us indoors, and we discover that my sister, Willa, has accidentally stolen the telephone from our hotel in Glasgow, to both her chagrin and the hotel’s.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

My mother walked the first day with us, but we are all aware that she will not be able to do most of this trip. She has a bad knee and a bad back and several bad internal organs that aren’t helped by her bad cold. As Tuesday dawns, she decides to seek antibiotics. It is not at all clear that they will help—the cold is likely viral—but she needs something to do during the day while the rest of us walk.

Or, really, the rest of them. I will not be walking on Tuesday since I wake up indisposed. The peculiarities of my indisposition are best left undescribed, save to say that I spent the night Crainlariching and the morning further polluting the pristine Inn bathroom.

 This can only mean murder, right?

This can only mean murder, right?

The health clinic in Killearn is clean, pleasant, and elderly. My mother, at 74, seems to be the youngest patient. When we arrive, Mom waits for a doctor. I can diagnose my own ailment, and so I fall asleep in the waiting room. Then I use the bathroom. Then I fall asleep in the waiting room. Then I use the bathroom. This repeats.

In the evening, a cab driver takes us to a hotel that feels like a communist youth retreat. The sterile building is on a small spot on Loch Loman called Rowerdennan. The bartender makes me a home remedy for stomach pain, which I drink. I also have a sandwich. It does not help. I will not describe or imply the events of the next eight hours.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Rowardennan is not much more than an Inn and a parking lot on the edge of a lake. Because we have booked this trip through a resort-booking company, and because we are all comparatively old, today is a rest day. 

At noon, Dad books a trip on a speed boat so that we might all discover the far shores of Loch Loman. They are, as the song suggests, bonnie bonnie. The guide tells us about a wealthy old coot who populated one of the lake’s islands with wallabies. They have bred and gone feral, but we do not see them as we pass.

 A form of loch monster

A form of loch monster

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

From Rowardennan, the trail passes along the shores of Loch Lomand on slippery footing. The rain starts fitfully as we leave but comes steady and sideways as the morning wears on. My brother-in-law, Mark, sets out to run the trail in front of the rest of us. I follow, listening to podcasts and hiking fast. My mother, sister, and six-month-old nephew, Jax, take an-hour-and-a-half cab ride that skirts around the far side of the lake.

Halfway north along the lake’s shore towards Inversnaid, I spot a goat. It will be the only non-cow, non-human, non-dog mammal I see on the walk.

A Goat!.jpg

Lunch at the hotel in Inversnaid commences with a bald Scottsman announcing—in the most Scottish of possible accents—that Scottish weather will “make a man of ya.” My appetite for stereotypes fulfilled, I order a ham sandwich.

In the afternoon, the trail climbs out of the lake bed into rolling hills with long grasses. The rain eases slightly, and I push myself to make good time, arriving at the Drover’s Inn by mid afternoon.

The Drover’s was founded two years before Scotland was incorporated into the UK, in 1705. An enormous claymore is situated above the main fireplace and the waitstaff wear kilts. It is said to be haunted by a family who froze to death nearby during the late 1700’s. I stay up late, reading and hoping for a ghost encounter, but am disappointed.

Friday, June 15th, 2018

Friday, like every single other other day, dawns damp and grey. ‘Damp and grey’ could go on a bumper sticker for Scotland. Mark and Teal carry baby Jax in an Osprey backpack designed for infants. It looks like a modernized litter, except carried by a single person rather than a coterie of servants. Jax gurgles and murmurs as we climb away from the Drover’s Inn and march up the River Falloch. He falls asleep midmorning and manages to keep his head at an angle that would be fatal for an adult.

 Snack break

Snack break

After two hours of walking, we leave the trail for lunch, and descend into the non-metaphorical Crainlarich, where we find ‘The Rod and Reel,’ a pub whose floor collapsed long enough ago that no one can remember why they didn’t bother to fix it. The owners have since renovated, bending the benches so that they might fit neatly against the floor as it slopes downward into one corner of the room. Intriguingly, the bar has a pool table.

After lunch, my sisters climb back to the trail, but I take the train to Tyndrum since the afternoon rain has grown percussive. The train passes near a Lochan—a small lake—where Robert the Bruce was said to have hurled his claymore after defeat at the battle of Dal Righ.

Tyndrum, like Crainlarich, has multiple inns and multiple pubs. The Tyndrum Inn, where we stay, will not refrigerate Jax’s formula, earning them the raw hatred of both my sister and brother-in-law. 

Saturday, June 16th 2018

Saturday is no less rainy than the rest of the week. My mother has a bad back and cannot carry Jax so I ride with her on a bus from Tyndrum to the Bridge of Orchy, where we situate ourselves in the game room of the Bridge of Orchy hotel, and Jax immediately begins to cry. I carry him upstairs to an empty dining room with a grand fireplace and with tables set with crystal and silver. The hotel here, like so much of rural Scotland, seems like a throwback to an era of comfortable outposts surrounded by difficult roads. I wonder if the stiff formality of British imperialism—“civilized” dinners, pressed white linen, starched uniforms—was formed in the endless English campaigns against the Scots. As Jax nods off to sleep, I stare out the window at the Bridge of Orchy itself, a wide stone arch that straddles the river Orchy before the road leads off into the hills. Around noon, my sisters, brother-in-law, and father arrive, and I switch packs and rain gear with Mark and leave on the afternoon hike.

 Not the bridge of Orchy... or particularly reassuring

Not the bridge of Orchy... or particularly reassuring

From the Bridge of Orchy, the path rises sharply through forest. I drift into thinking what it might be like if I were on foot and a squad of horsemen appeared across the valley, riding hard. There would be maybe twenty-five minutes in which to make the wood and hide myself.

After a few false summits, the road descends sharply into Inveronan, where a charming hotel serves us toasted ham, onion, and cheese sandwiches. In the afternoon, the path begins to follow a stony old military road as it gently ascends into bleak, empty hills. It seems there is a footrace today—sodden runners pass back and forth around us. Eight miles from the hotel, we find the start of the race, at the Glencoe Mountain resort. There is an inflatable finishing arc where a single volunteer waits for anyone who has not yet returned. Up a steeply graded parking lot is a small ski lodge where there is a collection box soliciting donations to cover expenses of new snow-making machines. A taxi meets us and carries us to the Loch Leven Hotel, where a clever bartender named Henry tells jokes in poor taste whose punchlines he whispers, lest he offend other patrons.

 Above the Bridge of Orchy

Above the Bridge of Orchy

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

We have a rest day at the Loch Leven hotel, so I spend the morning sketching our route. In the afternoon, the hotel owner gives us a tour of his small gin distillery. We drink two local brews, one mixed with cardamom and orange peels and the other with allspice. In the evening, we celebrate Dad’s 75th birthday by eating too much.

 ...and drinking a bit

...and drinking a bit

Monday, June 18th, 2018

The path today ascends the Devil’s Staircase—so named because it was the route that William of Orange’s men used to retreat after the massacre at Glen Coe in February of 1692. The slaughter was the talk of Europe after it happened. William’s men were ordered to billet among members of Clan MacDonald and then slaughter them in their sleep. Thirty-eight men were killed directly, and an indeterminate number of others died of exposure and starvation after William’s men marched up the valley and burned any settlement they could find. The whole affair was prosecuted years later, the chief question being whether it violated a 1587 law that forbade ‘slaughter under trust,’ a crime that is essentially equivalent to the Red Wedding.

 The Devil's Staircase is not in this photo

The Devil's Staircase is not in this photo

Despite the intimidating nickname, the walk is relatively easy. I hiked ahead and arrived in Kinlochleven by one o’clock. It is a small town with an old church that has been converted into an international ice-climbing training center that includes a refrigerated wall composed of five hundred metric tons of ice.

 End of journey

End of journey

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

The final day of the trail is, unsurprisingly, rainy. We buy sandwiches at a local grocery store and hike out of Kinlochleven up a steep switchback. Scottland has few mosquitos but is infested with midges. These small, horrible creatures emerge from the plants whenever the rain stops. Since the rain rarely stops, they usually aren’t a problem. Today, though, we get a breath of sunlight as we hike through the forest, and I am suddenly breathing insects. My sister wraps her head in mosquito netting and looks like a bank robber. Soon enough though, the rain starts and the bugs retreat. After a long hike across a bare ridge line, we pass Lochan Lunn Da-Bhra, a small lake with a small island on which MacBeth, the king of Scots from 1040-57 was said to have lived. It is, however, also said that the lake was home to a waterbull that would emerge and kill livestock. This seems particularly curious since there is no mention of the bull being carnivorous. So the people saying these things—as well as those repeating them—are probably not to be trusted.

 MacBeth probably didn't live on this island

MacBeth probably didn't live on this island

From Lochan Lunn D-Bhra the road passes through the Nevis forest and then joins an old forestry road that leads down one final hill and onto an unpleasant stretch of highway, which finally arrives in Fort William, where there is a gruesome tourist shop filled with kilts, plastic Loch Ness monsters, and plaid, scratchy scarves. They also have passport stamps asserting you have walked the Way, which—per our goal—we have.

 End of trip

End of trip

Something to Read: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon.JPG

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Toni Morrison is a pretty good writer.

I actually remember when I first read Beloved in English class in eleventh grade. The book, in my mind, couldn’t be literature because it was too easy and enjoyable to read. We had just finished Crime and Punishment and I was convinced—like many who read Dostoyevski too young… or ever—that ‘brilliance’ must be attached to inaccessibility. And then I read Morrison, and she wrote books that breezed past your eyeballs, as if you were watching a movie.

In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine that Toni Morrison would even be possible in a pre-cinema world. The way that Beloved uses flashback, voice, and the actual shape of the text (italics) to jump between narrators seems somehow tied to words like ‘cut,’ ‘fade in,’ and, well, ‘flashback.’ She was one of those early authors, along with Kurt Vonnegut, who made me realize it is possible to actually like literary fiction rather than merely admiring it. 

But I’m theoretically talking about Song of Solomon here. To wit: it’s a pretty good book. I googled the title when I started reading and discovered that the Song of Solomon is the Song of Songs, which is a quasi-pagan-seeming piece of biblical incantation that celebrates young lovers. (And was immediately coopted by the Church, as are all things sexual, and turned into something try as toast: a metaphorical celebration of the marriage between divinity and the church itself.) The title may well reference some of the sex in the book—there’s lots of sex in the book—but it also refers to a much more literal children’s song that various characters sing in snippets throughout. The cooption of biblical naming is twice appropriate since Morrison takes an almost Faulknerian delight in repurposed names. Our protagonist is Macon Dead, a man so named because when his grandfather registered at the Freedman’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War, a clerk asked him where he was from, if his father was alive, and what was his family name and then the clerk put the names in the wrong columns. So ‘Jake’ became ‘Macon Dead,’ a man who picks his children’s names by pointing a finger at the bible. Hence his daughter, Pilate, and various other family including Ruth, Reba, First Corinthians, and Magdalene. 

I remember reading about how, near his death, Hemingway started to find words increasingly insubstantial. Here’s him in Farewell to Arms “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain… There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. (I’m cribbing from Joan Didion’s incredible essay on his life to quote the text.) Morrison seems to feel a similar power to proper nouns, particularly names in Solomon. There’s a paragraph, near the end of the novel, that is just a list of names, which it would be a shame to abbreviate… so I won’t:

"He closed his eyes and thought of the black men in Shalimar, Roanoke, Petersburg, Newport News, Danville, in the Blood Bank, on Darling Street, in the pool halls, the barbershops. Their names. Names they got from yearnings gestures, flaws, events, mistakes, weaknesses. Names that bore witness. Macon Dead, Sing Byrd, Crowell Byrd, Pilate, Reba, Hagar, Magdalene, First Corinthians, Milkman, Guitar, Railroad Tommy, Hospital Tommy, Empire State (he just stood around and swayed), Small Boy, Sweet, Circe, Moon, Nero, Humpty-Dumpty, Blue Boy, Scandinavia, Quack-Quack, Jericho, Spoonbread, Ice Man, Dough Belly, Rocky River, Gray Eye, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, Cool Breeze, Muddy Waters, Pinetop, Jelly Roll, Fats, Leadbelly, Bo Diddley, Cat-Iron, Peg-Leg, Son, Shortstuff, Smoky Babe, Funny Papa, Bukka, Pink, Bull Moose, B.B. T-Bone, Black Acr, Lemon, Washboard, Gatemouth, Cleanhead, Tampa Red, Juke Boy, Shine, Staggerlee, Jim the Devil, Fuck-Up, and Dat Nigger."

It’s a whole history, written only in the names of the people who lived it.

Solomon, unlike Beloved or Bluest Eye, also feels like it’s pulled from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It has the same sense of scope: whole generations of people exist in the pages. And the magic of their universe, like that of the Buendias in A Hundred Years of Solitude is only just below the surface. The ghosts of the dead aren’t even particularly unusual here: a minor aberration from daily norms, no more alarming than a thunderstorm. 

All in all, it’s a book that is really asking for a book club. But since I don’t have one, I’ll settle with this post.

Something to Read: The Haunted Land by Tina Rosenberg

The Haunted Land.png

The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghost After Communism is an old book that is frustratingly relevant right now. The book concerns itself with the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia), Poland, and East Germany in the days and years after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was published, and won the Pulitzer prize, in 1995.

Rosenberg argues that communism survived through an unending strategy of “them.” Each person within the system believed that there were other, higher people within the bureaucracy who were the real opponents of change. “I can’t print this because of them”; “I would ignore this conversation, if it weren’t for them”; “I can’t help but condemn this person to torture because of them.” Communism – and particularly Polish communism – Rosenberg argues, was essentially a system composed of millions of people, none of whom wanted the status quo, but none of whom had the ability – at least in his own mind – to oppose the system as a whole.

The question that springs to my mind is this: what are the horrid injustices endemic to American Democracy that we ascribe to ambiguous others. Do we have a similar class of ‘them?’ 

When I was in college, professor Charles Hill – a man I later discovered to be a neocon and big proponent of the second Iraq War – was a huge advocate of rising high in your career before you tried to do anything good. He believed you would ultimately do far more to further your own ideals and interests if you worked for fifteen years to become the VP of some major corporation or the first deputy in an embassy somewhere before chasing your improve-humanity goals. This notion – rise first, then help – strikes me as the closest analogue I can think of of the American ‘them.’ Seek the approval of your supervisor or his supervisor or the company owner before you worry about what it is that you actually want to do. Focus on personal advancement, then worry about the consequences.

In a way our ‘them’ is as entrenched and pernicious as the communist one was. It’s particularly hard to topple since the ‘them’ is not some single state bureaucracy but rather myriad individual or corporate interests. Tomorrow, we imagine, we'll be the head of our particular company and then – maybe then – we can finally think about how we can treat poor people better. When I get to the head of my medical firm, I'm going to really change things up! In the meantime, though, it’s probably best to do the best damn oxycodone promotion that I can. That way I’ll get promoted sooner sooner and be able to stop selling oxycodone.

The problem, or one of the problems, is that even at that top you are constrained by the culture of the business you are in as well as by the expectations of your shareholders and the people around you. More to the point, you yourself have been shaped by years of putting the company first. You have acclimated yourself to the idea that profitability should be the great goal of your career. It’s not so easy to give that up and imagine solutions to the vague injustices you were obsessed with when you were eighteen. You're strapped with twenty years of psychology now.

The Trump presidency is, in some ways, the ultimate manifestation of this culture of ‘profit above all else.’ The Trump organization built itself on insider political connections, discrimination, and heavily lobbied for tax breaks because Trump’s one unending goal was to get richer regardless of what that took. Now, in his presidency, we can see what a ‘profitability without scruples’ model of living looks like. He’s arrived at the highest position anyone could ever hope for and he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to do with it. The morality of government now depends entirely on what he can get away with. This is what it looks like when someone accumulates power for its own sake, and it's hard to feel any more purpose to Trump's regime than, say, Kruschev's. 

(Rosenberg’s book also beautifully examines the Czech Republic and East Germany. I may have veered onto a tangent here.)

Something to read: A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

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You know that genre of book that you read because you found it on your parents' book shelf? This is one of those.

Peck’s novella is part of that genre of short fiction that is long on detail and character but short on story. Robert – our narrator – is a twelve year old boy at the beginning of the book and a thirteen year old ‘man’ at the end. He lives in Vermont on a farm in a Shaker community sometime in Coolidge’s administration – he mentions the possibility of voting for Coolidge, which puts the time between 1925 and 1929. The plot, such as it is, is that he nearly kills himself helping a neighbor’s cow give birth to two colts and gets a pig in return. He names it Pinky, raises it with the intention of making her a breeding sow, and takes her to a fair. She wins a blue ribbon, but turns out to be barren and thus must be slaughtered by Haven – Robert’s father. So: the pig dies. The title is bullshit. After the pig dies, so does Robert’s father. Robert organizes the funeral. The book ends.

The narrative structure is really simple: it’s a story of transitioning to adulthood through the acceptance of things that are miserable. We must be cruel to grow up is essentially the message. 

What makes the book worthwhile is the precise dillineation of the world in which Robert lives. I had to look things up: what the hell is a cotter pin? A corn cratch? A windrow? Each chore and task describes simple hard work. The boy is sent to shoot a grey squirrel so that he can cut out the stomach, dry the semi-digested nut means in it, and use them to sprinkle on a chocolate cake. He struggles to yoke an ox because the yoke itself is nearly as large as he. The brown worn spots on his father’s tools speak to a lifetime of use. Every step of moving the corn cratch (it’s like a small wallless house for corn!) is described. The creation of the winch; the chain attached to it, the ox’s slow circling movements.

The good-writing lesson: a world is evoked by the precise naming of the tasks within it.

A reading

This was written for a reading on December 1st, 2012.

I wanted to put together a collage of diary entries, so I compiled a few sentences from a bunch of different days and then, to make it more interesting, I switched them around a little.

Monday, October 1st

What if – after the brief brutality of childhood and adolescence – the non-readers go back to the places they grew up and create little worlds of perfect satisfaction where they breed children and repair tires? They go to bridge games once a week and when someone brings up Romney v. Obama, the room hushes until the offending party offers up her Jello salad recipe.

My first impulse, of course, is that if that fantasy world existed, then its denizens all ought to contract a rough case of Chlamydia. 

Wednesday, September 12th

So much of writing is about loneliness. We are alone when we write and we try to conjure people to talk to. Or we procrastinate by imagining lovers we wish we were with.

Lizzie is still a tack in the back of my mind: a rubbed-raw section of brain tissue that hurts to the thought. 

Wednesday, October 10th

Should we just give up and fund government through legalized bribes? Maybe we could at least create a bribe market that prices a bribe according to its benefit.

The polls say that Obama is even with Romney. Fuck.

Wednesday, September 19th

Yesterday, in class, I think I offended all of the women in the room. 

Monday, November 12th

I am always surprised by the curative properties of leaving your apartment to go somewhere with people.

Saturday, September 29th

I’m marking the tail end of wedding season by going to a wedding. How depressing.

Monday, October 29th

I have a married couple sleeping in my bed and It’s hurricaning outside. 

Sunday, October 7th

Westhampton. The poor man’s Hampton, insofar as that isn’t a contradiction in terms.

I am here to help dog sit. The dogs in question sure-as-fuck needed sitting. The young alpha dog, a coonhound named Mowgli is a howling brain-dead shit of an animal who pounces and slobbers and cries. Just as dumb and affectionate as a rock.

Tuesday, September 25th

Today I juggled two knives and a juggling pin under high-wattage white light while auditioning for a McDonald’s commercial. I also made pesto. Alone late at night, I logged on to the internet dating site OKCupid and did a search for anyone whose profile said she had – or was working on – a Phd. Earlier, I looked up the word ‘refractory’ for the half-dozenth time.

Friday, September 14th

The Columbia health center has allotted me a therapist at $15 a week, so I can go squeak out my troubles to a bearded man who actively listens.

Thursday, September 27th

I believe that the Wells Fargo Identity theft protection unit has committed identity theft against me.

Wednesday, September 19th

Lizzie and I are are due for dinner tonight. We will sit down and we will hash out whether we have some sort of future together as friends or lovers.

Thursday, September 20th

My head is throbbing with whisky. I had about half a gallon of the stuff last night after three strong margaritas and a couple shots of tequila.

Wednesday, November 7th

There’s nothing that quite haunts you, that leaves a bitter itch in the back of your skull, like the near-certain knowledge that someone that you love is sleeping with someone else. 

At least Obama won.

Saturday, November 16th

We try to tame the ocean through the possibility of rescue. If we swim and cramp, there will be a lifeguard. If our ship is overturned, the Coast Guard will save us. If we are stranded at sea, someone will find us. In the aftermath of disaster, as in most of life’s most-important moments, our best hopes rest with the efforts of other people.

Saturday, December 1st

Tonight I won’t be lonely.