Archive for October, 2014


October 31, 2014

Dear Paul Rudnick,

Some years ago, a former colleague gave me your email address. I don’t remember why he had your email address, but he thought that somehow you could help me, in a mentor-y way. I put off emailing for lack of anything to say, really––”can you help me be famous?” seems like a bad choice of opener. Back then, some-years-ago, I was working at a publishing company as the assistant to a cantankerous but smart independent publisher, and I wanted to reach a point where I could write full-time. Perhaps my former colleague thought that: Paul Rudnick (your last name autocorrects to “Redneck”) writes for a living, so he can tell you how to do that!

But years later, here I am, writing for a living (if you want to call it that) and I realized, gee that’s pretty stupid. It’s not possible to give someone a map that charts how to reach the kingdom of freelance. Even if you could, why would you? It’s a small country with extremely limited resources, and you wouldn’t want to share them!

But maybe the ex-colleague thought: well, Paul Redneck (I’m leaving it) is funny, and ID is funny, so they’ll get along. Lots of people are funny, though, and that doesn’t mean they’re deserving of career advice, or that they’re likable in any way. And I happen to be hysterical in real life, but my writing career has been built on pretty melancholy topics: psychiatric disturbance, suicidal poets, Ingmar Bergman’s novels (which are maybe unintentionally funny.) So then that entree––let’s be friends because we’re both funny!––started to seem even dumber than the original one.

All this to say: Addams Family Values is the best movie of all time. That is all.

With admiration,



Another Deleted Snippet

October 29, 2014

From the same article…


“So you’re going to make an article for Harper’s about this band we had that never got sufficiently recorded?”

Ted Casher has a point. We’re sitting in a Stow, Massachusetts Dunkin’ Donuts, which, due to overzealous air conditioning, feels more like a meat locker than a coffee shop. Casher has been telling me about his ongoing life as a professional musician: hustling to gigs up and down the Eastern seaboard, teaching saxophone lessons, holding thankless titles like “composer-in-residence,” eking out a living. He was on the road when his son was born, he says. Seventy-six years old, and he’s still doing it. “I’m too nervous to steal,” he says, rolling his cartoonishly big eyes, his lips curling up into a most charming smile.

But while Casher’s life is interesting in its own right, it’s really one small slice of it I’m after: the three years he played flute in the aforementioned insufficiently recorded band, a “chamber rock” outfit headed by flagrant, bawdy, formal, iconoclastic housewife-turned-poet-enchantress Anne Sexton, dead forty years ago this month…

“There’s always a line, it comes into my head whenever I step onto a plane, even today,” Casher says, a touch wistful. “Wait Mister. Which way is home?



October 27, 2014

This is my favorite thing to do, like, ever.  Below, a deleted scene from a recently published Harper’s article on Anne Sextons’ rock band.  That I wrote.  Obviously.

Wayland High School in Wayland, Massachusetts, looks very different than it did back in the sixties, the secretary in the office tells me. It used to be laid out like a college campus: separate buildings for each subject, so the students had to weather harsh Eastern winters just to go from science class to math class. They redid the whole thing two years ago, at which point they consolidated everything into two spotless modern buildings. Steve Rizzo works in the other one as a resource teacher, so it takes him a few minutes to get to the office. I expect to have to search his face for some of that quarterback handsomeness everyone mentioned, but it’s right there for the taking, despite the fact that he is now in his sixties. Sandy-blond and solidly built, Rizzo returned to Wayland High School to teach special needs students not long after he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1973. He has been here ever since. He still plays music, and has even learned to read it since his days in Anne Sexton & Her Kind. He brings his guitar to school nearly every day, either to practice during a break from teaching or to jam with the kids a little bit. “If I can do it with the kids, yeah, I like that,” he says. On the site, one of his students from 2004 wrote, “Can play guitar behind the back!!!” [sic]

Rizzo’s personality seems largely unchanged from when he was a student in Sexton and Clawson’s English class. There is a contentedness about him that slows things down and simplifies them, but his pulse visibly quickens when he brings out an old volume of Sexton’s poetry. “The thing that kills me is, I didn’t know language could be used like this,” he says. “There were certain parts of these poems that would just catch me.” He flips the book to the first section of the poem “Eighteen Days Without You,” a series she wrote for her psychiatrist, who doubled as her lover. “‘I hibernated under the covers/last night, not sleeping until dawn/came up like twilight and the oak leaves/whispered like money, those hangers on.’” He reads it straight from the page, believing it to need no final comment on his part. It is just beautiful language, which is enough.

“And just the way she said that last line, so full of pathos. You are gone. The way it trailed out of her mouth, I remember getting chills just up there playing.”

Rizzo remembers his experience with the group as an education of sorts, less in the academics of poetry and music than the life of adult artists, full of uncertainties, heartache and, occasionally, marvelous freedom. He remembers Anne as mesmerizing and very maternal. Though she would occasionally chide Rizzo for being late to rehearsals, she couldn’t help but try to gently include him in her world, oftentimes stopping during practice to make sure that he really understood poems with subtle (or less than) sexual themes, like “That Day,” which they wrote a march song for. (“If a phenomenon arrives shouldn’t the Magi come bearing gifts?/ Yesterday was the day I bore gifts for your gift/and came from the valley to meet you on the pavement.”) Clawson and Sexton were like a platonic aunt and uncle couple to him, and they offered him, in turn, a different kind of role model than the ones he was surrounded by in white-bread Wayland.

“For me, that was a very valuable experience… to learn the depth of failure, maybe, and not getting what you wanted, or having it be exactly like you thought it would be,” he says. “I would say that was a valuable experience for me at that time in my life. Otherwise, I would have just go on to Northeastern and continued to play football… ”

“When I read back to the poems, I can almost remember some of the moments,” he says, flipping through cheaply printed concert posters decorated with Rorschach inkblots. “I can’t remember all of the music. Some of it’s gone.”

When I get up to leave, Rizzo smiles at me, and says, “From now on, whenever you hear the leaves rustling in the fall, you’ll think they sound like money.” And I’m pretty sure he’s right.


October 26, 2014

When I was obsessing over how to buy beetles to make earrings like the ones from Moonrise Kingdom?  Lulu Frost heard of my plight, and she answered!



Goodness it is TOUGH to be a trendsetter.

Off to Miami tomorrow.  So excited.  Please don’t bother me while I’m there––I’ll be reading and sunbathing.

Amen, Avi Steinberg

October 23, 2014

“When I’d become a regular at the shop, [Shabtai, the owner] invited me to sit with him and have horrible coffee and stale cookies––this was a major step forward in our relationship.  From there, he started to ask me to watch the shop while he… it wasn’t clear exactly what he was doing.  It seemed he had other business in the market, possibly involving certain female acquaintances.  He had a serious flirtation going with the chain smoking lady who sold dish rags and mops.

During my time as deputy junk man, I got to know the shop regulars.  The cabbie who would come in after his shift in search of radios and call me “sweetie”––which, in Hebrew, is considered a macho thing for men to call each other––and would inevitably begin speechifying and tell me that when I returned to the US, I should ‘tell the Americans’ whatever slightly frightening political opinion he happened to hold that day.  There was a very old, very pious woman who inspected every item with Orthodox exactitude and usually ended up buying her grandson a coin from a distant, long-obsolete country.  Sometimes, I would end up watching the shop for a few hours––but I didn’t care.  For better or, more likely, for worse, minding a junk emporium in the Jerusalem outdoor market was kind of a dream job for me.”

~Avi Steinberg, The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, & Kansas City, Missouri


October 22, 2014

I’m sure a million people have had this thought before, but yesterday, it occurred to me: if Matilda Wormwood hadn’t benefited from the intervention of the lovely Miss Honey, she’d have grown up to be… Carrie White.

My Fiance, the Crackhead

October 21, 2014
ML you know that really big homeless guy who’s always asking for money near our house
ID ugh yes
what about him
ML so i was walking towards him
he was sitting on one of those fence things around a tree
and coughing so hard he was like puking
ID oh goodness
ML and then i walked past him and i think i inhaled second hand crack smoke
are you feeling wacko?
ML i did for a few minutes after
i tried playing sudoku on the train and my times were way down
might have just been in my head though

The Best Premise for a Horror Movie Ever

October 20, 2014

Three-way email between some writerly characters…

ID: Terrible Air B&B. It looks way different than the photos and the man won’t let us leave.

SGM: Ugh. That’s so unethical. We were in a rough one in Iceland last year where the woman had clearly put us in the room of a child who had either disappeared or died. No sleep there.

CH: What the HELL?????!!!!!!

Live in Berlin in a…

October 17, 2014

Those of you who own The Itinerant Daughter Encyclopedia will know that there are few things I like more than living quarters in structures that were constructed as non-residential spaces.  You’ll see it on the Index of Greatness, right between Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and freshly peeled garlic cloves (so delightfully smooth!)  All this to say that if you would like to buy me a condominium in the refurbished Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts, in honor of my upcoming nuptials, I’ll definitely promote you to Best Friend Status.

So––I’ve just been traipsing around Europe, hence my criminal absence, and I discovered that Berlin is a veritable treasure trove of such structures.  Allow me to share a few of my favorites:

1. The Water Tower in Prenzlauer Berg

This round building on the edge of a park in bougie Prenzlauer Berg is basically my dream.  From a blog called Berlin — Around Town:

“The unofficial symbol of the district is the giant, 30-m (98-ft) high Water Tower in Knaackstraße, built in 1877 as a water reservoir, but shut down in 1914. The engine house in the tower was used as an unofficial prison by the SA in 1933–45 – a period recalled by a commemorative plaque. The tower stands on Windmühlenberg (windmill hill), where some of the windmills that had made Prenzlauer Berg famous in the 19th century once stood. Today the round brick building has been converted into trendy apartments.”

Also an acceptable gift.

Also an acceptable gift.

2. This apartment complex in an old hospital in Kreuzberg

We almost stayed here via Air B&B, but then… well, it’s a long story, but we didn’t.  You can though!
Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 12.28.05 PM

Or framed medical records

Or framed medical records

3. Augustrasse 25

It’s probably no one’s fantasy to live above a dance hall, but Clarchens Ballhaus is no ordinary dance hall.  It’s hosted bloody duels, dances for war widows, and many a Stasi agent looking for an enemy of the people. I feel like you could get used to lying alone in bed at night, listening to crackly old tango records emanating from downstairs.  To be fair, I’m not actually sure that the building HAS apartments in it, but I’m currently trying to track down official CB historian Marion Kiesow to ask.

And a beer garden to boot!

And a beer garden to boot!

And if you are bored, you can just pop downstairs for a concert!

And if you are bored, you can just pop downstairs for a concert!


October 1, 2014

I’m embarrassed because I feel as if every post I write begins with an apology for being out of touch.  The truth is that the past few days, it’s been mighty difficult to peel myself out of bed.  If only I were Gogo Schiaparelli, the daughter of Elsa and the future mother of Marisa Berenson (did you know it’s pronounced Mar-ee-za?)  Particularly the last part:

“After leaving Abbot’s Hill, she went to school in Paris, spent a winter in Munich, and took cooking lessons from a Russian chef.  In London she lived in her mother’s home with a chaperone, went on holidays to Morocco or Rome with her mother, and then might spend a few weeks visiting Diasy Fellowes’s villa at Cap Martin and from there head to Monte Carlo.  She traveled with her own pink silk sheets.”

Oh, and did I mention that I’m getting married?