odd and ends / 1.17.2020

Black Sun (Sol Niger) setting on the outskirts of a city. From Splendor Solis (The Splendour of the Sun), a German illuminated alchemical treatise ca. 1582. Found at magic transistor.


Diane and Gerry Weintraub: Ocean Moss. A miniature book of photos in the collection of The Met.


Berndt Friberg holding some of his handmade miniature vessels for Gustavsberg (Sweden). Found at Forage Modern Workshop.


Diamond-dust hourglass inscribed TEMPUS NEMINEM MANET (time waits for no one) by Erica Weiner.


Lawson Fenning Ivanhoe desk styled by Tali Roth Designs.

The important question lying behind many possibly intractable issues is whether people are serious – whether their stated beliefs, are authentic, or merely devised to achieve a certain self-presentation or outcome. Campaign polls, social media, ‘progressive’ politicians, ‘populist’ politicians, journalists invoking ‘free speech’ and ‘democracy’, quack doctors invoking science, your Facebook friends invoking quack doctors, skincare, astrology: clearly, not everything is what it seems, but it’s hard to tell what it actually is. 
Some modern critics exploit this uncertainty, grounding their analyses in the stability of conventional moral wisdom even as they bemoan its absence. They emphasise the primacy of emotions and the importance of ‘empathy’ in order to avoid the discomfort of thought and the stakes involved in taking a position.

Lauren Oyler, "Ha Ha! Ha Ha!" The London Review of Books, 1/23/2020.

The loss is tremendous and heartbreaking on so many levels, both the human suffering and the wiping out of other species, the loss of places, seasons. And it strikes me that it seems so much easier to imagine these losses than to imagine that we could change ourselves and create a different form of living on the planet. 
It is really crucial that we learn to imagine what we could gain. If we can't imagine it, it’s more difficult to create. It'll make us dependent on accidents, serendipities.

Climate adaptation specialist Dr. Susan Moser in conversation with Laurie Mazur for Earth Island Journal1/22/2019, talking "about communicating bad climate news, the benefits of 'functional denial,' the varied flavors of hope, and the better world we can build in the wreckage of life as we know it."


Related: Emma Marris/NYT — "How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change."


The late Charles Sprawson on swimming: “It seemed to me that it appealed to the introverted and eccentric, individualists involved in a mental world of their own.”

"One drunken night, a superb painter let me take a brush to a canvas that she said she was abandoning. I tried to continue a simple black stroke that she had started. The contrast between the controlled pressure of her touch and my flaccid smear shocked me, physically. It was like shaking hands with a small person who flips you across a room."

Peter Schjeldahl, "The Art of Dying." The New Yorker, December 16, 2019. (This issue may have my vote as best cover-to-cover issue of the NYer in 2019. Every article is a banger.)


Critical condition: critical stories about criticism.

He did it partly because he wanted to look like a member of Blink-182 every day of the year, partly because he was convinced his newly sprouting leg hair would keep him warm, and partly because his mother begged him to put on something more sensible. That last one, he added, might have been a key factor: “I think it probably had to do with the age,” he said. “Having a little more personal agency, and a little of that ‘You can’t make me’” attitude.

Ashley Fetters, "The Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter," The Atlantic, 1/9/2020. 

ends and beginnings

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

From "Little Gidding," No. 4 of Four Quartets. Originally posted 1/1/2010, reposted 1/1/2020.


Uncredited image sourced from the late, lamented Fffffound.


Remember, the time of year
when the future appears
like a blank sheet of paper
a clean calendar, a new chance.
On thick white snow 
you vow fresh footprints
then watch them go
with the wind's hearty gust.
So fill your glass. Here's tae us. Promises
made to be broken, made to last.

Jackie Kay


Samuel Bourne, The Manirung Pass, 1866. Albumen silver print from glass negative. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð 2019 (and a haphazard collection of wish-listed books)

Resplendent in corduroys, turban, and bobble sweater, the intrepid reader curls up on the divan and tucks her cashmere-coddled feet under a soft merino throw. Heavy vintage rings clink together softly as she languidly turns deckle-edged pages, peering at images of artworks fantastical and strange by the quavering light of a twisted candle. Beside her, a plate of Triscuits, olive-stuffed celery, and a mini glass bottle of Coca-Cola perch atop a teetering tower of books to read. For a handful of hours, grim news and heart-aching care fade as she gets lost in words and pictures and the questions they spark in her wondering, wandering mind. Time to celebrate jólabókaflóð, the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and spending the rest of the night reading.

Like a bobble sweater, the list of books that caught my eye in 2019 to read in 2020 is fanciful and particular, with funny patterns and an appealing bumpiness. 

If you, like me, would like to rifle through an 18th-century Dutch apothecary's cabinet with 55 secret drawers, The Collector's Cabinet and Miniature Pharmacy is a literal dream come true. There are vellum overlays and geological specimens and tiny footnotes galore.

I'm also coveting Jochen Raiß's collection of found polar bear photographs, a new volume of the painter Lesley Vance's work (I saw an exhibit of her paintings in 2012—something like colorful blurry ghosts of still objects—and wish wish wish I could have bought one), and The Pillar by Stephen Gill, a collection of photographs capturing various birds moving through the same specific place as the seasons change. It has text by Karl Ove Knausgård:
We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time.
I'd buy this Ann Craven book for the title alone: Shadows Moons and Abstract Lies. I'd also love a copy of the exhibition catalog for Endless Enigma, one of the most interesting shows I saw in 2019. Bellaire, Ohio: An All-American Town, a collection of photographs made by high school students, offers a different perspective on living in the sorts of places coastal reporters breeze through to sum up people they don't understand.

Moving away from picture books, my friend Jess mentioned the radical power of reading Franco Berardi, who offers strategies for living in the apocalypse. I was hunting up essays related to The Odd Women by George Gissing and found this Vivian Gornick piece in Dissent which made me want to read it, as well as the two "great novels of the revolution" she mentions at the close: Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? and Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World.

Granta's "Best Books" are a trove of reading inspiration. Because I love Barabara Comyns, I plan to hunt up a copy of A Touch of Mistletoe for its "alluring boy-painters and bull terriers, a Pre-Raphaelite brightness and a moreish Dickensian atmosphere."

Margaret Cavendish's cosmic earrings sparked my curiosity; the NYRB publishes a collection of her poems, and writes:
Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was a groundbreaking writer—a utopian visionary, a scientist, a science-fiction pioneer. She moved in philosophical circles that included Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, and she produced startlingly modern poems unlike anything published in the seventeenth century or since, at once scientific and visionary, full of feminist passion and deep sympathy with the nonhuman world.
So, that's filed under a 2020 must-read, alongside Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao, translated by Mike Fu. At The Paris Review, Tash Aw described it as 'a hypnotic meditation on love and loneliness in a foreign place.'

I was also captivated by a 1981 review of G.B. Edwards's The Book of Ebenezer Le Page about an 80-year-old man who lives a quiet life of subtle profundity. Guy Davenport writes, "I know of no description of happiness in modern literature equal to the one that ends this novel."

This Lucy Scholes essay on The Ice Age by Margaret Drabble makes the case that this 1977 book is a Brexit novel, and quotes this passage:
All over the nation, families who had listened to the news looked at one another and said ‘Goodness me’ or ‘Whatever next’ or ‘I give up’ or ‘Well, fuck that’, before embarking on an evening’s viewing of colour television, or a large hot meal, or a trip to the pub, or a choral society evening. All over the country, people blamed other people for all the things that were going wrong—the trade unions, the present government, the miners, the car workers, the seamen, the Arabs, the Irish, their own husbands, their own wives, their own idle good-for-nothing offspring, comprehensive education. Nobody knew whose fault it really was, but most people managed to complain fairly forcefully about somebody: only a few were stunned into honourable silence.

(Gossipy sidebar: Drabble's sister is the writer A.S. Byatt, and they apparently fell out over a tea set.)

Two windy books caught my eye: Heaven's Breath: A Natural History of the Wind by Lyall Watson and Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt. Alexandra Harris's Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies is also on my nightstand; I loved her book Romantic Moderns

Hugh loves hearing chapter books read aloud, and I am thinking it might be time to try The Little Grey Men, a story about the last gnomes left in England. Even escapist reading doesn't offer much escape: last gnomes and fickle winds feel tied to the unraveling climate.

There's a stack of thick books waiting for me on my shelves: Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman—"a single, sinuous sentence tracking a middle-aged Ohio woman's perambulations of thought"; Horizon by Barry Lopez—"a grave, sorrowful, beautiful book" about the ways we've damaged the world; and Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson (a gift from last year's list).

Always too many books to read; the best problem to have.

Merry everything, friends.


I was watching Christmas in Connecticut (a madcap 1945 rom-com about an influencer forced to live in her scam illusion of womanhood), and Barbara Stanwyck wears the most delightful and preposterous clothes pretending to be a model housewife. Her awful fiancé calls one of her outfits "a little ultra," and my new 2020 resolution is to wear more "ultra" clothes around the house. And anyway, my house is always chilly. I usually wear a ski cap indoors all the time, so a turban is maybe ... practical? (Ha ha.) 


gifts for march sisters

A "little cabinet piano ... with beautiful black and white keys ... and bright pedals." (Roland Kiyola oak piano).
A "band of sky-blue stones" to wear as a reminder not to be selfish. (Rosa de la Cruz turquoise eternity ring.)
A boxwood sewing kit, for mending tears and stitching the long seams of sheets.
A party dress with frills and a touch of real silk (Ulla Johnson Severine gown) or a sensible yet pretty skirt.
A length of silk velvet ribbon, to cover frizzled bangs or adorn a newborn baby.
Cards of gingerbread to nibble and plates of russets to eat while curled up on attic divans, reading.
A basket for corralling errant kittens.
A favorite story (The Pilgrim's Progess by John Bunyan.)
A pocket-sized pochade box for painting abroad. (Guerilla Painter pocket box and accessories.)
A little remembrance of beloved birds that died from neglect, perfect for keeping needles handy.
chest with a lock, to keep childhood treasures safe and vengeful sisters away from unfinished manuscripts.
Sturdy boots for running until your hairpins tumble out.
An edition of Undine worth the wait. (Undine by De La Motte Fouque, translated by W.L. Courtney and illustrated by Artur Rackham.)
A martin house to convert into a post office, for sharing "tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and ginger-bread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings and puppies" with next-door neighbors.
And, naturally, pickled limes.


For the truest March-sister Christmas: find a nearby food bank or some other way to share some comfort and joy.

"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books. We read some, and mean to every day," they all cried in chorus. 
"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?" 
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"
... They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party. 
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm. 
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in. 
"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poor woman, crying for joy. 
"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them to laughing.

gifts for schlegel sisters

A smart topper for social calls: Caron Callahan Bea coat.
Swirly, colorful cups by Balefire.
Extravagantly tufted seating, for quirky brothers with chronic hay fever to recline upon: John Derian Bachelor sofa.
Music inspired by painting (specifically, the paintings of Clyfford Still) to inspire discussion: James Romig's Still, performed by Ashley Mack.
Plinths for displaying treasures, or any of the other marvelous objects from Parvum Opus.
Single-color three-cent stamps to post handwritten correspondence from one sister to another.
A (swanky) place to stash errant, life-altering umbrellas (Fornasetti farfalle umbrella stand).
A family home you could keep forever.
Clerkenwell Blue bone china with sharp-nosed foxes and long-eared rabbits by Mira Santo
And, of course, a first edition of Howard's End.

gifts for jigsaw puzzlers

A ha-ha funny one: Piecework Puzzles Meta 1,000 piece puzzle.
Akihiro Woodworks Jin cup for sustaining sips of something warm close at hand.
Keen Hsu's LED lantern speaker, to shine a little extra light and gently amplify the soothing voices of podcasters.
Akron St. Ko low table—paired with meditation cushions or floor pillows, the tray top makes it perfect for puzzle work.
One for collectors: Liberty Puzzles "Flutter By," 290 pieces with assorted whimsies (pieces cut out in the shapes of recognizable things, like caterpillars and dancers).
A puzzle disguised as a novel/a novel disguised as a puzzle: a first edition of Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch.
Shearling moccasin clogs (fuzzy slippers are always useful).
An enamelware bake set that doubles as sorting strays for puzzle pieces (or some less-costly butcher tray palettes).
Bode quilt jacket (each one is a wearable, covetable work of art).
Perfectly pieced earrings by Grainne Morton.
A snack that keeps your hands clean: old-fashioned bourbon cocktail lollipops by A Secret Forest.
The gift of infinite options: a puzzle without end—"no fixed shape, no starting point, and no edges."

gifts for practical and fanciful four-year-olds


A cheery Duckhead umbrella to brighten rainy days.
Bluebird hankies from Poketo to dry tears and wipe noses.
Hammer time! Haba tap-and-tack.
For practicing wobbly letters: a Musgrave Choo-choo Jumbo pencil and an all-weather reporter's notebook.
Grimms blocks magnets paired with a magnetic tray/pizza pan/cookie sheet to pass the time on long drives.
For the child entranced by technology: an old-school cassette recorder with enticing buttons to push and fascinating tape mechanics (or the more kiddo-friendly Lil Mib voice recorder).
Harlekin spinning tops: a perfect, pocketable amusement.
For newly independent brushers: a toothbrushing timer, to help keep those pearly whites nice and clean.
Squishable, sparkly rainbows: Land of Dough swirly glitter dough (with semi-guilt-free biodegradable glitter) or a kit to mix up a batch of your own. (In stock at Fox & Kit.)
Manitobah mukluks for keeping small toes toasty and dry on wintery days. (I have a pair in grown-up size; they are marvelous.) Mittens on a string are a good idea, too.
A maybe-magical balm for "poetic badgers and other restless wanderers." (My kiddo loves this stuff.)