foodie gifts you should not eat

Beer that is easy to burn off (because it is actually a candle by Cereria Introna).

Japanese crayons with pigments made from cabbages and leeks, corn and carrots.

Chris Chiappa's fried egg sculpture at Good Friend (or if you prefer soft-boiled, these).

Gohar World's plate of beans.

Disco cherries (or ice cream or pineapples) by Sofiest Designs.

Jellycat's extremely huggable sandwich (or Folkmanis wormy apple).

The ultimate New York City bagel.

An arty cookbook by Esther Choi that "uses food to create edible interpretations of modern and contemporary sculptures, paintings, architecture, and design."

And a Fortnum and Mason chocolate toad—frighteningly lifelike, but actually eatable!

gifts for decadent bathers

Handmade soap that doubles as a still life, by Orient 499.

A steamy book by that can be read through in one soaking. (It would be genius if a smart publisher out there would make a series of bath-time books: engrossing works that can be read in half an hour or 45 minutes.)

An aryballos of F. Miller face oil for post-bath anointing.

Chocolates to savor, one at a time, by Deux Cranes and Dandelion (or Deux Crane's flavored caramels, for non-chocolate people).

Glimmering silver goblets by Tse Tse to keep a glass of something close at hand.

Wax Apple wooden massage tools for getting the knots out.

Thick and plushy organic cotton checker towels from Baina.

Michele Varian's silver chestnut trinket box, for stashing precious jewels that should not get soapy.

The plushest, cruelty-free alpaca slippers at Conifer, for kicking your feet up.

gifts for all (or at least, some)

A full list of the marginally useful (but hopefully amusing!) gift guides compiled on this blog.


Imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð 2021 + wish-listed books for 2022

Imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð 2020 (and too many books to read in the time allotted)

Practical and fanciful four-year-olds
Jigsaw puzzlers
Schlegel sisters
March sisters

Mycophiles (all ages)
Opinionated three-year-olds who love bright colors and the moon, among other things
Rock collectors
Random gifts for specific people
Imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð (and bookmarked books to give or get)

Dark gifts for witty women
Noisy, messy, and marvelous young children
Sensitive listeners
Green thumbs
Midwinterish gifts
Giftable books for specific readers

Moon gazers
Commuters (all sorts)
Play time
The scattershot

First Christmases
The sleep-deprived
Craft rooms

Cloud spotters
Armchair mountaineers
Animal lovers

Starry-eyed wanderers
Writers and readers
Collectors of curiosities
Staying in
Venturing out

The dreamer of ice and snow
The reader of fairy tales
The classicist
The bookish


gifts some mothers may enjoy: 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021 / 2022
birthday gifts for 42-year-olds / 43-year-olds / 44-year-olds


Christmas rush at the Washington post office. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. 1860 - 1920.

ghost story no. 44

For a long time, we ignored them. They were easy enough to ignore, anyway, for most of us. People who knew things said there really was no problem, no problem. Some insisted no, that something had to be done, but they were in the minority; mocked, gently at first, but with escalating intensity that tilted toward cruelty, toward real division. But then, in certain circles at least, it began to be known that the people who knew things had secret doubts, that they were sharing their fears in closed, private conversations, amongst themselves, in encrypted chats and secure conclaves. They were making plans and arrangements for themselves, and actually, the government was involved, all the way to the highest levels.

Because, of course, we did see them. Everyone could see them. You couldn't help seeing them. They were there, always there, lingering under overpasses, huddling in parking garages, under bridges, in abandoned houses and the broken industrial spaces we'd outgrown, in the weed-tangled margins. Even if it was just a glimpse from a car window, shadows caught by the corner of an eye. Eventually the problem could not be denied. There were just too many, too many and always more, and pundits argued about what we had done, why their numbers were increasing, how to address the problem, what responsibilities, if any, we might bear, as if we could've helped it.

They were gathering, you see. And there were so many, so many; the old spaces could not hold them. They began to creep into our houses and garages, in basements and attics and garden sheds, taking up residence in any little-used corner. That is when we knew that something had to be done. They could not be left to fill the spaces we had made. It was too upsetting—the realization that they were there, always there. And knowing what they represented, what it meant. It shook us, even the most stolid, the most unfeeling, the hardened and unimaginative being paradoxically highly susceptible to the strange feelings their presence occasioned. We were unsettled; that was the word for it, unsettled. We were troubled, uneasy.

Perhaps those feelings fed them; the research was inconclusive. We did not quite understand how they were sustained, what it meant to exist that way. But what mattered is that we began to suffer from them. Health outcomes declined. Property values and overall productivity were adversely impacted. Children were fractious and restless; petty crime went up. They needed to go; we wanted them gone.
Different approaches were tried, even the old rituals, but the breakthrough came when a researcher discovered not only a method of capture but a means of distillation. A deep vault would be dug, and they could be stored, bottled, alongside the other indissoluble problems we had made. The problem had been solved.

Once they were gone, finally gone, though, we were no happier. No, we felt a strange jitteriness, a nagging discomfort, a feeling as if we had left something important undone, like the oven was on or the door was unlocked. We did not remember feeling that way before, not all the time, but there it was. Their going had left a space we could not tolerate. Theories shifted; perhaps, indeed, they were somehow necessary. The breakthrough came when it was discovered that their distillate was injectable—well-tolerated in human subjects, with minimal side effects—a gentle bruise, a passing malaise. Doses were made available, enough for all, but most especially the young and old and lonely, who were peculiarly vulnerable to them. Once they were in us, safely in us, and we knew they were there, we could rest again.

the tense of the unreal

Egon Schiele, Four Trees, 1917. Oberes Belvedere, Vienna.


Berlinde De Bruyckere, Arcangelo II, 2020. Hamburger Kunsthalle.


C.P. Cavafy, “Clothes,” translated by Daniel Mendelsohn.


Anonymous Works: "In what could be called one of the strangest industrial designs ever, the Chicago-based Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company in 1936 created a version of their Thor electric washing machines with sculpted hands embossed on the agitator. At the time, some Thor dealers painted the fingernails of the hands on demonstration machines."


Gregory Halili, carved shells and pearl


Mid-20th century Italian composite marble and limestone grave marker.


Margaret Cross blue sapphire "Devotion" ring.


James Merrill's Ouija Board.


I suppose it is submerged memories that give to our dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulfur in the blood is a volcanic inferno.

W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn.

The most interesting and valuable witness of the stupendous eruption of Bandai-san in 1888—which blew the huge volcano to pieces and devastated an area of twenty-seven square miles, leveling forests, turning rivers from their courses, and burying numbers of villages with all their inhabitants­­­—was an old peasant who had watched the whole cataclysm from a neighboring peak as unconcernedly as if he had been looking at a drama. He saw a black column of ash and steam rise to the height of twenty thousand feet and spread out at its summit in the shape of an umbrella, blotting out the sun. Then he felt a strange rain pouring upon him, hotter than the water of a bath. Then all became black, and he felt the mountain beneath him shaking to its roots and heard a crash of thunders that seemed like the sound of the breaking of a world. But he remained quite still until everything was over. He had made up his mind not to be afraid—deeming that all he saw and heard was delusion wrought by the witchcraft of a fox.

Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

Americans’ belief in ghosts has been on the rise since 2015, according to a poll by YouGov, a research and analytics firm, and paranormal beliefs are becoming common, with 59 percent of women and 52 percent of men expressing a belief in haunted places, according to a 2019 survey by Chapman University. Even the U.S. government has refused to rule out the existence of aliens after making footage of unidentified flying objects public.

Taylor Lorenz, "The 'This American Life' of Ghost Stories is Captivating Gen Z." The Washington Post, 10/22/2022. 

The pictures may ostensibly document the realm of the immaterial, the post-human, the ether, but they are moving precisely because of the grubby human and material stories they inadvertently disclose, of boundless grief and stubborn self-deception and feeble guile and pathetic compromise. They speak of propriety and barbarism, doubt and obsession, love and chicanery, exaltation and despair. They embody every sort of contradiction and every affective extreme. They can be terrifying, not because of their sideshow ghosts or tinpot effects, but because of the emotional undertow that lies just beneath their surfaces. It is not hard to imagine being unbalanced by loss and then thrown into a darkened room where the last tenuous grasp of reality finally gives way, or to imagine larkishly producing a hoax and then finding that a great number of people have become psychologically dependent on its indefinite perpetuation. There is a great unwritten book, or more than one, lurking behind these pictures, but it could only be a work of the imagination.
Lucy Sante, "Summoning the Spirits." The New York Review, 2/23/2006.

Would have, would have. The dead dwell in the conditional, the tense of the unreal. But there is also the extraordinary feeling that you have become omniscient, that nothing we do or think or feel can be kept from you. The extraordinary sense that you are reading these words, that you know what they’ll say even before I write them.

Sigrid Nunez, "The Blind."


Crossing the autumn moor—
I keep hearing
someone behind me!

Yosa Buson


odds and ends / 10.20.2022


Sophia Thoreau, five hickory leaves inscribed with “Fair Haven,” a poem by her brother Henry. In 1841, he wrote in his journal, "It is as a leaf which hangs over my head in the path. I bend the twig and write my prayers on it, then letting it go the bough springs up and shows the scrawl to heaven ... As if it were not kept shut in my desk—but were as public a leaf as any in nature."


Detail of a 20th century Vietnamese wood panel, via Bonne Maison.



"Eggs of Macremphytus varianus inserted in the leaf of dogwood" from Insect Life and Natural Insect History by S.W.Frost, 1942 (1959 edition). Via stopping off place.


Yoko Ono, Earth Piece, 1963.

Coming back in a cab, I saw a man dragging a big square piece of plywood across the street to plunk it down next to a big earthy hole he was digging in the street. The plywood looked as if it might cover the hole. I felt a vague excitement—a stirring of memories about how exciting a hole with earth heaped beside it had been to me a few years ago—I remembered digging for red clay—digging into a hill, digging for Australia, digging ’til water came in, the danger of digging a deep hole and getting inside, etc.

Donna Dennis, "Has Henry James put me in this mood?" The Paris Review, 9/22/2022. 


"It is an astonishment to be alive, and life calls on you to be astonished; but lifelong astonishment will take iron-willed discipline."

Awe-tinged wonder’s positive ethical potential is related to its power to unsettle the wonderer. It erodes the ego’s defences, throwing the wonderer slightly off her guard, so that she might come to view the world, and her place in it, differently. Research on wonder and awe seeks to understand this phenomenon of accommodation and its potentially significant – and salutary – effects. Investigators have pinpointed a distinction between short-term, experimentally induced awe (using immersive videos or images of landscapes) and ‘dispositional’ awe experienced by people in whom wonder has become a habitual mode of engagement with the world.

Lisa Sideris, "To Benefit From Wonder, Make Sure You've Got the Genuine Kind." Pysche, 10/4/2022. 

The best thing that can happen to me while reading a poem is to fall off a cliff at a line break. In the plummet, meaning splits apart, and when I land on the next line (or in empty space!) I can’t retrace my steps. This gap in the sensible that poetry provides is pure potential: aesthetic and political. Such eruptions in time and meaning—like the femme voices of Greek myth—threaten order and containment.

Elvia Wilk, "Siren (some poetics)," 4Columns.   

Gohar calls the Argentine psychologist Susana Balán her “therapist,” though she concedes that the term isn’t quite right: they speak regularly, but Gohar does not pay for sessions. “It’s more like I’m a subject she’s studying,” Gohar explained. The two met after Gohar read Balán’s self-published children’s book, “Link and the Shooting Stars,” and identified with its hero. The story follows a young misfit horse, Link, who sets out to find a life that can accommodate his many talents and interests. The book is intended to illustrate a concept that Balán has developed called the “Link personality,” which she feels Gohar exemplifies. Such people have “many ‘I’s,” Balán told me.

Molly Fischer, "Laila Gohar's Exquisite Taste." The New Yorker, 9/19/2022. 

The Rorschach is now broadly considered a pseudoscience ... In a way, it was discredited from the start: Hermann Rorschach never had any success promoting his method, and the psychoanalytic establishment paid it little attention. Rorschach died only a year after completing his system, still in his thirties, and he might have been forgotten entirely if his cards weren’t taken up by the US military. The Army needed a way to weed out psychotics from their recruits, and the inkblot test was an ideal method for a modern military. It’s replicable and it’s cheap, you can mass-produce the inkblot cards like bullets, and it can be administered without much training. ... Maybe the best name for the test would not be pseudoscience, but magic. A kind of mid-century witch-doctoring, perfectly compatible with IBM systems and the big faceless bureaucracies of military and corporate life. At its core, it’s an exercise in mythopoesis: the way we take random patterns and fill them with meaning; the symbols by which the world reveals itself. 

Sam Kriss, "The Roaring of Things." Justin E.H. Smith's Hinternet, 9/25/2022.

The part of my brain that wasn’t battling itself over a musical necessary belief in the divine was given over to the image, presented at the end of the audiobook’s exclusive final 12-minutes, of Nick Cave panic-buying a hundred cans of baked beans in a fury of pandemic paranoia, sending them to his sons, and responding to their confusion with the vague threat: “Something’s coming down the line.” 

Emily Colucci, "If I Stay All Night and Talk: Conversation as Corrective in Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan’s 'Faith, Hope and Carnage.'" Filthy Dreams, 9/20/2022.


... [H]ere is a proposition for you to consider: you and I have exactly as much attention as we need. In fact, I’d invite you to do more than consider it. Take it out for a spin in the world. See if proceeding on this assumption doesn’t change how you experience life, maybe not radically, but perhaps for the better. And the implicit corollary should also be borne in mind. If I have exactly as much attention as I need, then in those moments when I feel as if I don’t, the problem is not that I don’t have enough attention. It lies elsewhere.

L.M. Sacasas, "Your Attention is not a Resource." The Convivial Society, 4/1/2021. 

... [F]orty-five minutes was, I think, his atom of time, the span of shortest possible duration. It took forty-five minutes to brush and floss his teeth. Forty-five minutes to shave. And forty-five minutes, minimum, to bathe. Forty-five minutes between saying, “I’m almost ready to go,” and going. ... These forty-five-minute intervals were because, I think, he did everything while thinking about something else. He lived inside a series of dreams, and each dream could admit only one pedestrian task into its landscape. He often spoke of the life of the mind. He wished for my brother and me that we could enjoy a life of the mind. But, as with many phrases, I think my dad used “the life of the mind” in his own way. He never, for example, urged us to read Foucault, or Socrates, or, really, any books. Those forty-five-minute blocks of daydreams were, I think, closer to what he meant by the life of the mind. They were about idly turning over this or that, or maybe also about imagining yourself as Marco Polo. They were about enjoying being alone, and in your thoughts. 

River Galchen, "How to Recover From a Happy Childhood." The New Yorker, October 3, 2022.

I have a vague memory of a nun approaching me at some conference — not a nuns conference — and saying, “You got it right.” Which I really hope so. I really hope there are communities of women all over the world who are just thoroughly themselves. I wish it was everywhere, just not in convents.

Siobhán McSweeney in Vulture on playing Sister Michael, a "natural anarchist," in Derry Girls


"My fungus period has been bubbly and fun and a lot of dancing."

birthday gifts some 44-year-olds might enjoy

In a digression at the end of The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog trains his cameras on a group of albino crocodiles basking in pools of runoff from a nuclear power plant and muses on crocodiles staring into the abyss of time. For this reason, the image of mortality in my mind is a white crocodile, and the crocodile of time feels very near at my birthday, when I wonder if this is the year it eats me. And maybe because I have spent past few weeks thinking of ghost crocodiles, I misread a sign the other day as "ghost lobsters" and suddenly had a hilarious and terrifying vision of what it would be like to be visited by the ghosts of all the lobsters I have ever ate, hearing the ghost-rattle of their exoskeletons, their ghost eye-stalks observing me, an army of the crustacean dead trailing ghost butter and clouds of steam. And then I half-remembered hearing Edna O'Brien describe a bad experience with LSD, which seemed to involve years of seeing her phone as a lobster, and apparently Jean-Paul Sartre, too, was plagued with visions of lobsters. He kept seeing three or four at a time after a mescaline trip, knew they were not real, but saw them there just the same. So maybe the lobsters are waiting in my psyche with the crocodile.

Fortunately, I forgot all of this on my actual birthday and had an uncommonly nice time. 

Some gifts:

A tool for measuring the blue of the sky, based on blue skies in Ukraine.

Monogrammed rose-scented lip balm by Officine Universelle Buly. 

A matching Sayaka Davis scarf and sweater.

A book out of print: Sam Stephenson's Love and Work: Lyric Research on Jason Molina.

A Marcie McGoldrick ring that doubles as a family portrait.

butterfly hair claw (or a cloud barrette).

Bright Himukashi wool socks.

A pleasingly wobbly hairbrush by Y.S. Park.

Ithell Colquhoun's Color as Taro.

Porcelain lady apples.

The complete Virago Modern Classic Collection and the most beautiful bookshelf to hold them, made by Sara Levitas Design Studio.

Perfect gold shoes by Avril Gau, just right for stepping into another year.

Money to send to women fighting to live life on their own terms in the U.S. and in Iran.