Although she died in 1982, at the age of ninety, Djuna Barnes seems to have recorded her voice on only a few occasions. The tape below was made in her Patchin Place home in 1971. Barnes is best known for Nightwood, her modernist classic, but she had a long and thriving career as a journalist and in the avant-garde literary scene. Her body of work, including The Book of Repulsive Women, Ryder, and The Ladies Almanack, spans aestheticism, Dada, and high modernism. Her books are deep, often challenging, and crucial. Read More
As a young woman, I went on a few highly improbable dates with a guy who did something in the realm of what, in my family, we call “beeswax.” After a few absurdly adult dinners at real restaurants, I told him we shouldn’t see each other any more. He said, “You’re probably right. I have a feeling you sometimes have dirty feet, and I can’t handle that.”
His “feeling” may have been based on certain clues—at this time in my life (the “pre-makeover Harlequin-heroine” phase) I dwelt exclusively in vintage heeled sandals, and these often proved so fragile or painful that, in the cases where my ever-present moleskin and tube of Crazy Glue didn’t work, I was forced to take them off and trudge around New York barefoot. So, yeah, maybe my feet were sometimes less than pristine. Read More
Many people hate the word moist. Indeed, it has become almost expected to hate the word moist, with its connotations of limp handshakes, cloying Uriah Heep types, and creeping damp. A recent study found that the aversion was real, reported the New York Times: “Data from the current studies point to semantic features of the word—namely, associations with disgusting bodily functions—as a more prominent source of peoples’ unpleasant experience.”
But here’s the thing: I like moist. And not just because of good associations with the groundbreaking Moistworks blog, either. I think moist just needs better PR. Read More
As I write this, there are six workmen constructing a building within five feet of the window, as has been the case for the past eight months and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s not a quiet business at the best of times, and at the moment they’re blasting “Rockin’ Robin.” They start work at seven A.M., and they have one of those special permits from the mayor’s office that allows them to work on Saturdays, too. Along with the two preschools and the slew of amateur musicians who inhabit the surrounding buildings, it makes for a cacophony.
I used to wear noise-canceling headphones and sometimes earplugs, and I’d fume like an angry cartoon character, but now it doesn’t bother me much. In balmy weather, it even feels sort of Rear Window–ish and picturesque. Or so you can tell yourself, especially when one amateur musician noodles on his sax for several hours at a time. I realize I have come to love it. Read More
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
—Longfellow, “The Rainy Day”
In New York, the foreseeable future is unremittingly gray. (That’s not strictly true; there’s one lone “sunshine” icon in the ten-day forecast, which otherwise is a vertical column of rain clouds and two midweek bashful suns.) In short, it’s dirty weather. Weather that, in a perfect world, would find us turning to hot-water bottles and cozy reads and stupid movies and, I don’t know, stews, but that more often means trudging through subways smelling of wet dog and never quite getting your feet warm.
Such a grim outlook calls for a lot of things. (Personally, I’m a great believer in the palliative effects of a bright-orange towel, but then I also own a Feel-Good Candle, so.) But one great reliable is Mark Twain. So if you’re feeling dreary and blue and chilly, do yourself a favor and read his “Toast: The Babies,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and furthermore can be read from your desk. Read More
I’m terrified by the concept of the green thumb. Your proverbial green thumb combines all the factors for maximum intimidation: he or she has the worthy ability to interest herself in something really boring, a general competence and practicality, and a quality that’s something like mystical virtue—like being able to horse whisper or something. (I think The Secret Garden’s Dickon is partially responsible for this stereotype.) When someone loves to garden, he or she immediately becomes an alien species to me, just as do people who love to run. Read More