Spirits!

October 20, 2022

So they’re auctioning off the entire contents of the late Elizabeth Wurtzel’s apartment. Most of it is actually kind of ugly and not cool (she has a weird amount of framed art from CB2?) but for the low, low price of $85 (as of now), you can get her AA sobriety chips! In the words of AC, “This feels cursed.”

“Turgenev, can-can. Sad.”

October 20, 2022

In the spring of 1878, Turgenev in Paris and been pleased, but warily surprised, by a penitent letter which he received from Tolstoy: “Forgive me if I have been at fault in any way with regard to you.” Tolstoy begged his fellow novelist to forget all their previous quarrels and to remember only the good things which they had enjoyed together. It was the sort of letter which a postulant nun might have written to a schoolfriend before going into the cloister.

When the opportunity arose, later that summer, Turgenev visited Tolstoy at Yasnaya Pollyanna. He found that a tremendous change had overtaken Tolstoy. Turgenev’s novels reveal the liberal humanist’s ability to recognize life’s master for what it is, and not to worry at it. He was no metaphysician. For Tolstoy, such questions as Why are we here? What is the point of living? Is there a God? What is the Good? were of consuming importance. He had, during this summer, become obsessed by them. Turgenev discovered that there was little meeting ground between the two of them. After this particular visit, he wrote to Tolstoy, “I am glad that your physical health is good and I trust that your intellectual malady… has passed.” He went on to say that he had often experienced such moods of depression himself. To others, he expressed the fear that Tolstoy was going mad. For Tolstoy’s part, Turgenev’s urbanity and good humor were, in such circumstances, intolerable. On a rather later visit, Turgenev, carried away with high spirits, demonstrated a can-can to the children Yasnaya Pollyanna. “Turgenev, can-can. Sad,” was the priggish comment Tolstoy noted down afterwards.

A.N. Wilson, Tolstoy

A Shark’s Preferred Term

August 29, 2022

Look––I’m not saying it’s wrong to consider the linguistics here, or to push back against a human-centric worldview, but… do we really have so much time on our hands that we are worried about the language we use around sharks? Are we really concerned that vast swathes of people are developing speciesist views, and that this will have some kind of measurable negative impact? Or that sharks are being actively persecuted because the average person (who interacts with them… not at all?) uses the wrong terminology? In the nicest way possible: log. the hell. off.

Gang Names in Lancaster County

August 18, 2022

When Amish youth hit sixteen, they typically begin “running around.” This is the famous Rumspringa period, during which they can do almost whatever they please, because they are no longer under the rule of their parents, but nor have they been baptized officially into the church. I didn’t know before that they don’t do this alone; they join “gangs.” According to Donald Kraybill:

About twenty-seven youth groups, called “gangs,” ranging in size from fifty to a hundred and fifty members, crisscross the Lancaster settlement. By the age of ten, an Amish child will be able to name some of the groups––Bluebirds, Canaries, Pine Cones, Drifters, Shotguns, Rockys, and Quakers––and even describe some of their activities. Youth are free to join the gang of their choice. Young people from the same church district or family may join different groups. The gangs become the primary social world for teens before they marry, but the groups vary considerably in their conformity to traditional Amish values.

What, no Jets or Sharks?

Who’s Really Wrong Here?

June 14, 2022

Have you ever noticed something that is objectively incorrect, and it really irritates you, and yet the wrong thing is in a package that is either a) not interested in being correct and/or b) is kind of ridiculous and inconsequential? And yet still, the urge to correct this wrong thing feels really strong? I’ll give you two examples from my own life, not because I am going to use this phenomenon as a jumping off point to discuss something actually important, but because I just really want to point out how wrong these dumb things are in the public sphere. The itch is too strong not to scratch!

First, a long while ago, I watched a movie on Netflix Called Private Life, about a couple struggling to conceive a baby who hire one of their nieces (?) as a surrogate. It was… fine. Anyway, in an early scene, the couple, played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giametti, are in a fertility clinic waiting room filled with characters who are supposed to represent, I don’t know, some panoply of New York City life. A Haredi couple nearby, and the wife is affectionately rubbing her husband’s arm. And of course, I was like, um, no way! A Haredi couple would NEVER touch one another in public! Where was their Haredi advisor, ahem?!

I was reminded of this particular kind of irritation when I recently watched––wait for it––the M. Night Shyamalan movie Old. My understanding from the little I read of the reception was that it was a silly, very Shyamalan-y movie. That wouldn’t be enough to put me off, because I can occasionally get into the silly, especially if it’s horror-related, but a friend of mine whose taste I really respect told me she thought it was actually Good. So I decided to watch it as I was doing household chores.

It was, again, fine. Sort of what you would expect from a Shyamalan flick. The ending was wildly dumb. In case you aren’t familiar with the premise, it goes something like this: a group of seemingly random people staying at a tropical resort are taken by a tour guide to a beach, where they begin to age rapidly. They quickly figure out that on this beach, time moves at some exponentially faster rate than it does elsewhere. Insanity and decay ensue.

A view through a ribcage

One of the people on this beach is a rather tense-seeming British cardiologist (or maybe cardiothoracic surgeon, which I’m sure is different in some way that it is above my pay grade to describe). There are references made throughout the early parts of the film to his being “stressed” and to dealing with tension at work, which manifests in erratic behavior: he slashes another beachgoer with a knife, he loses his concentration in the middle of a tense moment and starts babbling about film. So my first thought is, obviously, some kind of dementia, that his family (also on the beach) was in denial about. But then at the end of the movie, another character reveals that the doctor actually had paranoid schizophrenia.

I GUESS you could make this work, but it’s just way less sensible than having him having some kind of dementia, which would also potentially cause erratic behavior. First, the guy is in at least his late forties, and schizophrenia, in a majority of cases, develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, around 16-20. So this means this guy’s backstory is that he either developed schizophrenia in middle age––again, unlikely––or that he developed it in the typical range, but then made it through university, medical school, and potentially more than a decade of work in a high-stakes field only to then develop schizophrenia? Meh! Also, the way his familiars on the beach are talking about the “pressure” sort of implies that his schizophrenic break came about as a result of his job stress. I would never deny the impact of external circumstances on mental health, but that’s not really how schizophrenia works.

But so here’s the thing though: this is a cheesy body-horror flick from M. Night Shyamalan, the guy who brought you “I see dead people” and Mel Gibson running through cornfields looking for aliens or Jesus or whatever. It’s probably more dumb of me to expect medical textbook-level rigor from him than it is for him to choose the less-logical malady for one of his characters to suffer from. (Also, the movie is based on a graphic novel, so perhaps the original character had schizophrenia and Shyamalan felt locked into that.) I can see how a certain type of person might feel the need to go on a crusade about this, but personally I just feel like the odds that this misstep has any real consequences in life are so, so slim. And yet still, the urge to correct prevails, because here I am, ranting about it on the Internet.

Best Hat Ever

April 1, 2022

Jenny Walton’s raffia acorn hat. Sold out before I knew it existed. Acorn hat, we hardly knew ye!

GAH so cute

Dream Me Speaks Truth

March 31, 2022

LA: So funny you called you were in my dream last night!

ID: What did I do???

LA: You just told me that only old ladies visit the Empire State Building! That’s all I remember

The Sensory Delight Scale

March 10, 2022

Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann and her cohort developed something called the Sensory Delight Scale, a kind of counterpart/complement to the Tellegen Absorption Scale, that measures “who is more able, by temperament and choice, to have vivid experiences of gods and spirits.” If you answer yes to all of these, you might be a mystic!

When I’m listening to music, I like to imagine the sounds taking shape and moving in the air around me.

When I finish reading a really powerful book, I find that the ordinary world around me seems oddly unfamiliar.

Sometimes I feel like my body is weightless, as if I’m floating, even when my feet are firmly on the ground.

I like to watch the shapes and movements that sunlight makes reflecting off the water.

Sometimes the world seems intensely present to me.

I like to think that the trees in a forest are talking with each other.

I have had a distinct sense of a watchful presence.

Sometimes when I am at a concert, I find that the music has ended a few seconds ago and everyone is clapping before I notice.

The sounds of different languages seem to be connected to different colors in my mind.

Sometimes I feel like the air is full of little bubbles of light.

Sometimes I feel like I can sense the passage of time almost tangibly.

When I hear the waves lap against the shore, I sometimes think of how much those waves might know.

I find joy in little things, like a newly opened flower.

Exquisite pleasure sometimes floods my senses.

I can get lost watching a spider lower itself on a thread.

Sometimes I feel the arms of the universe embrace me.

When I dance, I like to feel that my body is simply responding to the music.

Thoughts can have different colors for me.

My Son’s Ice Cream Flavors

February 2, 2022

My four-year-old son likes to play a game in the bathtub in which he pretends to be an ice cream man making ice cream and selling it to me. Here are some of the flavors he makes:

Yellow Fire

Blue Ocean

Salt White

White Cloud

Seaweed Green

Orange Setting Sun

Purple Rising Sun

Pink Grapefruit (this one is the most ordinary)

Mud Brown


I feel like I am forgetting some! My favorites I’ve tried so far are Orange Setting Sun, Salt White, and actually Seaweed Green is surprisingly good.

Just Not Now

January 20, 2022

“And one day Wulfhild, having dropped off the rents with Marie, stops in the scriptorium to kiss Gytha on the cheek, to slide a packet of candied fennel seed into the mad nun’s pocket. Gytha smiles bluely. Later, when in weariness Wulfhild takes off her leather tunic at her house at night, out falls a tiny painting of a fantastical beast on a cut-up old letter, a green tighter with a human smile or a porcupine playing the lute, which her daughters will one day pin to their collection on the wall. Some nights, going in to kiss her girls in their sleep, she will stop and look and feel before these many bests of Gytha’s something akin to what she felt as a child when the nuns sang their most beautiful, most awesome psalms, a slow internal pouring of ecstasy. Awe. If only she had time to examine this feeling, Wulfhild thinks ruefully; but she does not have time, she never has time, her children call, the business of the abbey calls, the hungers and fatigues of her body call. She will come closer to god when she is old, in a garden among the flowers and the birds, she tells herself; yes, some day she will sit in silence until she knows god, she thinks, lying down in her bed to sleep. Just not now.” ~Lauren Groff, Matrix