Gyms and Jams

I’ve been going to my new 80s gym every day and it’s great. I just really get into the scene there; the other day I watched an entire episode of Judge Judy whilst on the elliptical. I haven’t seen Judge Judy since college. She’s so mean!! Her celebrity is based solely on how much we, as a people, love authoritarianism. It’s so crazy how the whole point of that show is watching someone dominate and abuse people who have no recourse against her. The way she wears people down until they just stand there nervously saying “yes ma’am” as politely as they can. How does that become your life, as a judge, I wonder? She must be an awful human being–I read on Wikipedia that she made her name as the “toughest” family court judge on the circuit. Imagine what that means. She’s taken so many poor people’s kids away from them and called them idiots to their faces. Imagine having your kids taken away by this mean woman and then seeing her on her celebrated TV show each day. Lord. TALKIN’ JUDGE JUDY. My friend told me Judge Judy’s daughter lives in my town. I also recently learned that Matthew Fox lives here. Also Lou Barlow and Jay Mascis. Really interesting celebo mix we’ve got going!

Anyway I still love my gym. I have been going every single day, taking aerobics classes but also just doin’ the old elliptical. I haven’t exercised every day since high school and it feels great. Can this be my new life??? Will I ever learn the Zumba moves? Some say maybe, others aren’t so sure. The other day at Zumba it was just me and one other old lady. The instructor just goes THIS IS WEIRD! Then put on the music and taught class totally as normal. I respected her for it. I realized that day that where her moves are sexy and kind of hip hop themed, my attempts to imitate them end up being basically ska. I am not proud of this.

I took a really hard aerobics class yesterday, from a maniac who is kind of my old age icon, all ropy muscles and wild yelling. She knows everyone by name–the class was packed–and she incorporates humorous ribbing into her shouted instructions. “Okay eight more to go, you can do it! Ha ha look at Carol! Carol hates it, oh my god!” At one point she asked rhetorically “did you guys like that pec series we just did? IT CAME TO ME IN A DREAM!!!” As we were doing our ab work one lady asked “are we allowed to swear” and the instructor said “yes, you can swear” and the lady yelled “son of BISCUIT!”

Working on my syllabi, reading grad theses, messing around with this thing I’m supposed to be writing. Planning these syllabi is always such a slog. It’s so hard to envision the arc of the semester. What should come first? I get bogged down in side issues, finding readings about them, etc., then realizing wait this isn’t what this class is supposed to be about. But to learn anything about this issue, you have to learn this history and that history and this idea and that idea…and before you know it you’ve planned an entire class on “The Symphony” and forgotten to put any readings about the symphony in it.

If you are wondering whether I am still haunted by “Hereditary” the answer is yes. I am still unable to get up in the night and go to the bathroom without risking a heart attack. Last night my friend Sarah and I went to a movie because our respective life partners were watching THE PURGE at our house and we hate those movies. The movie we went to see instead was UNFRIENDED: THE DARK WEB, which was very stupid but I did enjoy how the whole thing takes place on a single computer screen. Our modern world! Anyway my point is on the drive home instead of talking about the movie I just told her the entire plot of Hereditary in great detail while she said NO over and over again. I can’t stop thinking about it.

In other movie news, recently on Mubi they put up a bunch of Ealing comedies, which are these charming British comedies from the 40s. They are all incredibly zany. The first one we watched was called WHISKEY GALORE and it is pretty racist against Scottish people, which sucks coming from the English, but we still enjoyed it. It’s about a tiny Scotch island where the supply of whiskey is cut off by various grand events related to WWII. Nobody on the island gives a shit about the war, it’s all very distant and abstract to them, but the whiskey supply abruptly ceasing sends the town into a spiralling panic. One old man dies of shock in the early scenes establishing the situation. Anyway the whole movie is a bunch of hijinks—a ship carrying a whiskey cargo runs aground on the island but since it’s the Sabbath they aren’t allowed to do any work so they just all sit on the beach staring at the boat for the entire day (joke about catholicism). They finally get the whiskey and spend a lot of time and ingenuity hiding it from the British army guy who’s in charge of the island and who is slowly worn down by their puckishness and refusal to give him straight answers. And once the stolen secret cargo of whiskey is dispersed across the island there is indeed Whiskey Galore! Whiskey in the bread tin, whiskey in the hot water bottle, whiskey hidden behind father’s picture. And everyone is happy and that’s the end of the movie. BUT it was in this movie that we discovered the genius of Joan Greenwood, who I can’t believe I’ve never seen before. WHAT A NATIONAL TREASURE FOR THE WORLD. She’s like a weirder, sleepier Audrey Hepburn. Very funny actor.

Then we watched four more Ealing comedies, three of them starring a young Alec Guinness. Have you ever seen a young Alec Guinness? Do yourself a favor. He is very cute, but also he is a comic actor which I don’t think I realized. There’s one movie where a disinherited nobleman decides to kill the 8 family members who stand between him and his Dukedom, and all 8 family members are played by Alec Guinness. The mean old patriarch, the cute earnest young heir who loves photography, the stern lady suffragette (that one dies when the guy shoots an arrow into the hot air balloon she is using to distribute leaflets triumphantly over London), etc. One of the family members is a doddering old priest who is a fool, and it is 100% proto Obi Wan and so funny to think of Guinness first working out some of those gestures and that diction in the form of this dumb old priest who gives the world’s boringest sermons and only cares about port wine. Anyway that one is called “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” it’s a brutal satire of the class system and social striving, and it’s also got Joan Greenwood. WORD TO THE WISE

I also recommend “The Lavender Hill Mob” very strongly, in re: Ealing comedies starring a young Alec Guinness. It is EXTREMELY zany; there’s a delightful sequence where Guinness and his friend/co-conspirator run all the way down the Eiffel Tower stairs holding suitcases and laughing wildly (they’re chasing a busload of English school girls who have accidentally bought model Eiffel Towers that Guinness and his friend have smuggled gold out of England in. It’s a long story)

That’s all I’ve got, in terms of Young Alec Guinness news and suggestions

I guess that’s all I’ve got in general. I’m making ravioli tonight. My friend gave me a seedling and told me he didn’t know what it was but that he thought it was some sort of berry; when it ripened I posted a picture of it on instagram and everyone told me it’s a DEADLY BLACK NIGHTSHADE. Why/where did my friend get hold of a deadly nightshade seedling?? What kind of nursery is selling them? Anyway now I have a five foot tall nightshade plant in my yard, which I think makes me a goth.


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Snapshots From An Offline Life

What’s up bros????????

A lot has been going on, but as usual most of it is too boring to bother telling anybody about. I don’t find it boring but I recognize that it mostly is boring to others. For example: I got a book contract FINALLY!! But when I tell people and then they ask me “oh what’s your book about?” in my brain I’m just like “say as few sentences as possible” but no matter how few sentences I use I can still see the person’s eyes glaze over. It’s crazy that capitalism is destroying our world but when somebody writes a book about it it’s impossible to make it sound interesting. I need to work on this.

But anyway, I got a book contract. My experience with peer review was unusually agonized and protracted, delayed by stuff totally outside of my control, which was very challenging for me. Whenever the ball is in my court I am FINE. I loved writing the book, I loved revising the book, I do these things quickly and with pleasure. But waiting as month after month after month after month dragged by and nobody knew what was going on or why the one reviewer was so late…as the date my tenure file is due draws nearer and nearer. I feel you can see in my face that I have aged unnaturally quickly because of it all. Five months of interrupted sleep, nightmares, and constant all-day obsession are not good for one’s skin. Literally my husband told me “what’s wrong with you, you look crazy” and when I said “what do you mean??” he said “you’ve got intense bags under your eyes and your eyes look weird.” My human husband said that to me, to my face.

It is obviously not important in the grand scheme of things, but we are all just dealing with what’s in front of us. When the final report finally came in and the editor told me to “celebrate!” I burst into tears and cried in my husband’s arms and wailed some embarrassing things. We immediately went to the Game Stop and bought a Nintendo Switch so I could play the new Zelda and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since (joke (sort of))

I really believe in peer review. When people take it seriously it’s amazing and powerful. It is also excruciating and nerve-wracking. Them’s the breaks!

Other things going on:

I joined an 80s style gym, by which I mean it is pretty basic and run-down and full of old ladies, like the gyms I grew up waiting around for my mother in. I’ve definitely fallen into that middle aged rut where you are perpetually joining gyms and getting excited about finally starting to regularly exercise again and then four months later you realize you failed and have to start over. BUT THIS TIME IT’S GONNA BE DIFFERENT ha ha ha. Specifically I want to go to aerobics classes constantly, every day of the week if I can. It is so much fun. Taking a Zumba class with a bunch of old New England ladies dancing to out-of-date hip hop. Sign me up! So far I’ve gone every day for one week. We’ll see what happens. I’m also obviously doing that middle aged thing where you’re like “look at all these old ladies, ha ha” and then you realize they’re probably like six years older than you. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair

I pickled garlic scapes

I grew a ton of stuff in my garden

I hate the cherry tomatoes I chose to plant this year. Fuck this variety; never again I say. And I mentioned this to my friend who is a farmer and her face grew thunderous when she heard what variety I’d planted and she yelled oh FUCK that shit. Whoever invented this variety is truly a monster; I think his name is “Matt” because the variety is called “Matt’s Wild.” Word to the wise. They may be blight resistant but it’s not worth it.

I believe I have solved the fruit fly issue: keep the compost in the freezer and put little jars of apple cider vinegar with a drop of dish soap around the kitchen. I will report back on this in September as we actually haven’t reached peak fruit fly season yet.

I forgot that I have to start getting mammograms now that I am forty and then my doctor reminded me and this depressed me

I started trying to wear sunscreen every day. Success has been middling on this goal so far

We had an epic 7 day heat wave that entailed spending a lot of time sitting in the basement so the dog wouldn’t die

I’m playing so much Breath of the Wild that my real life has become psychedelic, like I’ll walk past a decorative ceramic ball sitting on someone’s porch step and think “I wonder what I’m supposed to do with that” or I’ll see a tree branch laying artfully on the ground and think “I can’t pick that up because my weapons cache is full”

Through a complicated set of circumstances we were given a really fancy juicer for free and I have been making “sour juice” that’s mostly kale and lemons

I read every Tana French book essentially in one sitting and now am devastated that there aren’t any more–anybody got any French-esque recommendations? If you’ve read her you know what I mean by this

I’m playing the piano a lot, and exclusively am trying to learn Bach inventions and Joplin rags. Somehow these seem similar to me. Something about contrapuntal writing and syncopation.

I have decided I don’t care that much about going to Tanglewood. I think New Englanders do “outside hanging out” in a weird way I don’t like.

At the same time, I have recently realized that sitting outside at night in New England is not necessarily impossible; I sat outside til midnight the other night and only got two mosquito bites. So maybe these things are not hard and fast rules, which I am glad to learn.

This whole summer I have been doing almost nothing but working on my book and some articles I have going on. I spend the whole day in my office typing. I don’t know if I will regret this when I am old or not, but it’s just the way it is. Meanwhile, my husband is doing things like taking apart our windows to figure out how they work so that he can replace the sashes himself. He did this because the other day I broke a window through carelessness. He just sighed when it happened. Leo is Virgo’s cross to bear in this way; Leo is constantly like OOPS and looking guiltily at Virgo and then Virgo has to figure out how to fix whatever happened. I’m sorry honey. I also apologize for blaming my character flaws on astrology, which is a cop-out and not cute. Anyway he’s learning a lot about windows, for example our windows are “double hung,” which means you can lower the top half as well as raise the bottom half. We never knew that! And he’s doing wild amounts of yard work, and identifying every plant in our yard and how to care for it and what its uses are. And trimming the hedge and building things and fixing the hole in the roof and paying all the bills and making informational calls to contractors and roofers, and vacuuming and managing the vet appointments and bathing the dog and figuring out direct deposit and ordering me new credit cards and researching dentists and taking the car in for oil changes and dealing with the trash and recycling. I don’t do ANYTHING for this family aside from making the bulk of our income and doing a lot of pickling. I guess I’m also in charge of cleaning the bathroom, so that’s something. I also wash the windows once a year, which I find deeply, profoundly satisfying. I have a squeegee and everything.

And speaking of jobs, Gary got one! As you may know, he retired from teaching after ten years of being ABD and teaching college as an adjunct. He was tired of contingent precarious labor and also tired of this kind of intellectual and affective labor that is impossible to shut off. He wanted to go back to straightforward work where you clock in and out and don’t have to think about it when you’re not there. He’s been applying to all kinds of cool weird jobs in our town, and just got one, working weekends at a bookstore. He came home exhilarated after his first day. “I worked all day doing concrete tasks and now I’m home and am not thinking about it at all and don’t have to think about it again until next weekend!” I am happy for him even though I would rather chew off my own foot than have a 9-5 job ever again.

Oh god, we saw “Hereditary” and I am still deeply haunted. It was over a week ago and I still can’t get up to go to the bathroom without my heart pounding out of my chest–the other night I woke up and even though I was in bed with my old man I still got so scared I couldn’t go back to sleep, I kept imagining a shadowy form emerging next to the bed and I felt like I would pee my pants, and it was so hot that Gary wouldn’t let me cling to him and so I had no comfort. It was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, which is saying something because I have seen all the scary movies, and been very scared by many of them. But nothing holds a candle to this shit. It was so wild. It was during the heat wave and we just wanted to go see a movie to get into the air conditioning. We have lately been even more out of touch with pop culture than usual and had heard NOTHING about the movie, and literally chose it only because the time worked and it was showing in the one good theater our local shitty cinema has. I vaguely perceived from the poster that it was a horror movie, but that was fine because I love horror movies. I was like “oh boy I love Toni Colette” and that was kind of the end of my understanding of what the movie was. LITTLE DID I KNOW. Jesus Lord alive. I have never, NEVER been so disturbed by a film, and I’ve seen some crazy shit in my time (married to an experimental film scholar). The theater was almost empty–it was just us and then two or three people sitting alone, which became more and more creepy as the movie went on, these mild rustlings from lone watchers in the dark behind us. The movie starts and you think it’s just an artful but straightforward haunted house movie–like, it’s great, the atmosphere is great, the music, the setup, really unusually inventive sound design so I knew Gary was loving it, etc. We were like “ooh this is gonna be a good movie!” and settled in for a fun time…but then there’s this hideous turn and the movie becomes about really different stuff than you thought it was going to be about. It’s very very affecting and scary in a conventional sense but it’s also disturbing on a psychic and spiritual level. There are images from that movie that I swear will haunt me for the rest of my days. I watched the entire second half with my hand covering my mouth, in an “OH MY GOD” gesture. I couldn’t even look at or lean on my husband; it was so horrifying I couldn’t bear to have contact with another human being during it. I haven’t been that scared in a movie since Blair Witch Project and this was 1000 times scarier and more upsetting than that. It was like Rosemary’s Baby, The Babadook, and the Witch put together and made exponentially more disturbing in every conceivable way. Honestly it was shattering. I kept thinking WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING or like OH GOD WHO WILL I BE WHEN THIS MOVIE FINALLY ENDS, HOW WILL I RECONSTRUCT MY LIFE

It seems like I’m over-selling it and I’m sorry but this is authentically how it felt to watch. It was truly a full body experience. I wouldn’t have ever thought a movie could be so affecting. When it ended we sort of staggered out and looked at each other’s drawn, pallid faces and Gary goes “Jesus…..CHRIST”

We both said “I can NOT go back to our house right now” so we went to a bar to try to drink away what we had just born witness to. We sat down at the bar and the bartender was like “you guys look fucked up” and we said “we just saw Hereditary” and he goes “ohhhhhh god I just saw it too” and gave us free drinks. So the story ultimately had a happy ending and it all worked out

Now that I’ve said all this you might be thinking wow, that movie sounds awful, but you’d be wrong, it was probably the best movie I’ve ever seen. Not one second was wasted; every single element was so carefully, consciously constructed. They simply nailed it. It was tremendous, a tremendous cinematic accomplishment. I assume the person who wrote it is a serial killer but I must tip my hat to them nonetheless, as well as to the director and the cinematographer and all the actors and the sound designers and the composer. Well done to all!

I really feel like anyone who says this movie didn’t affect them is either lying or is an actual graphable psychopath. It’s like people who claimed to have seen the twist in the Sixth Sense coming–no you fucking didn’t, and why do you think it makes you seem cool to pretend you did?? Don’t @ me

Remember how I went to see Sixth Sense in the theater by myself at a matinee, and the theater was absolutely empty and I sat right in the middle, and then right as previews were starting another solitary woman came in and sat DIRECTLY NEXT TO ME?? In the actual next seat? This is still by far the weirdest thing I have ever witnessed a person do in public. We never spoke or acknowledged one another. Just me and a total stranger watching the entirety of Sixth Sense alone in a huge dark theater next to each other in silence. OMG I just remembered Sixth Sense also stars Toni Colette

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America’s Top Impulse Purchases

The other day I had a couple of hours to kill while waiting for my old man to go to a doctor’s appointment, so I went to the fancier co-op in the other town we were in. I love to go in there and wander around because it’s so much bigger than our co-op and has so many more types of olives; also they sell beer and wine. They also have a bigger variety of local apples than our co-op, but it’s not apple season yet so in this particular instance that was a moot point.

But! As I was in line waiting to check out, I made what may prove to be the single most awesome impulse purchase of my entire life. Everyone I have told about this purchase first made fun of me and then, after listening to me talk about it for several hours, admitted that I was indeed wise and good for having made it. It is none other than an issue of America’s Test Kitchen magazine titled BEST EVER SIDE DISHES

I have never watched America’s Test Kitchen and didn’t know what it was, but the cover of the magazine promised to teach me how to actually make good versions of common side dishes that are always made poorly, and I was like, huh, that sounds like a problem someone I know has (it’s me). I took it outside and sat at one of the picnic tables out front and ate pre-made vegetarian sushi and read the magazine and literally within three pages I was already excitedly texting everyone I knew to tell them I had just made the best impulse purchase of my entire life.

They use science and carefully-repeated experiments to figure out the best way to do stuff! It sounds so fun in there, like a lab. Each recipe is prefaced by a long narrative description of the problems and possible solutions the dish poses, written by whichever cook ultimately solved the problem. It’s so great because you’re nodding along as you read: yes, yes, that IS what always happens to my potato salad! Yes, that’s EXACTLY why I hate cucumber garnishes! I learned so much. For example: ASPARAGUS

I make pretty good asparagus. And in general asparagus is pretty hard to fuck up, in my experience, it’s not like you have to be Julia Child. I usually toss it in oil and salt, and then either roast it or sautee it, maybe throw some garlic in there. And it turns out…good! Little squeeze of lemon. Sometimes I have wondered “how do you get it all charred and crispy without it turning to mush?” and suspected that there’s something I’m missing, but googling it just always turns up the method I already use, so I figured I just didn’t have “the touch” or maybe I didn’t have a fancy enough pan. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that cooking it in oil means either it gets mushy before it gets browned or it gets browned before it gets cooked adequately, depending on what level of heat you crank it up to in desperation, but steaming it first and then sauteeing it (which solves the texture issue) not only loses a bunch of its flavor but is a huge pain in the ass and takes two pans instead of one (I also appreciate the pragmatism of America’s Test Kitchen; they’re always trying to find a way to do something in one pan and/or faster). The test cook was like “if only I could steam it and brown it AT THE SAME TIME.” So they took it down the hall to the science consultant, who pointed out that oil has 0% water and butter has 20% water, so if you melt half oil/half butter in a skillet, put the asparagus in, cover it with a lid, and let it cook on medium for a few minutes until it starts to get tender, THEN take the lid off and crank it up to medium high, you’ll cook it properly while still saving enough time for a good char. I tried it that very evening. READER, I MARRIED HIM

It worked like a charm! The most perfect asparagus, made by little ol’ me in my boring pan on my shitty 1970s era electric stove! I was so exhilarated.

I have also learned how to cook beets, although I will never use the technique again because it’s wasteful (wrapping individual beets in tin foil: fuck you). I just tried it to see if the asparagus narrative was a fluke. It wasn’t.

They have articles on squash, risotto, stuffed peppers, deviled eggs, gratins, corn on the cob, etc. In every case, they take a classic side dish and discuss the conventional problems with it. Gratins are so good when done right, but are so often done poorly, so they’re watery and sick instead of creamy and rad: why, and how can we fix the problem? Why the HELL is tabouleh always so disgusting? Oh, here’s why! It’s a very effective and compelling approach to recipe-writing. I learned so much about batter-frying.

My only beef with America’s Test Kitchen is the completely bonkers over-reliance on paper towels. What on earth?! These motherfuckers use paper towels for EVERYTHING. I don’t see how all the Costcos in the world could supply enough paper towels to keep up with their demand. People, just use a dish towel! Rip up a brown paper bag from out in the garage! Dear lord. I haven’t bought paper towels in probably four years and I never will again (probably not true). Ditto the use of saran wrap. Cover with saran wrap and let sit for 15 minutes?? Jesus Christ. “Every time I cook a meal I like to throw a pound of plastic into the ocean”

Anyway after this life-changing impulse purchase we watched a bunch of episodes of the TV show and it was similarly revelatory. We kept gasping and pointing at the screen and yelling I KNEW IT. We learned so much about cast iron, vegetable stock, and how to brown a steak, which we will never do but which was interesting. And indeed there was an entire segment just on which paper towel holder is the best (the heavy duty one that holds an industrial-size roll, obviously). If they would only change the title to AMERICA’S TOP PAPER TOWEL USERS I would be happy. I also finally bought an oven thermometer, inspired by this show. It turns out that my oven—which I have developed a conspiracy theory about in terms of my unverifiable feeling that there are wild discrepancies between what’s shown on the dial and the actual temperature—actually just needs more time to pre-heat than its readiness light indicates. Good to know!

This magazine puts to shame the only other magazine I have impulse purchased, which was a copy of Martha Stewart Living that promised to give me good ideas for lunches. IT DID NOT. They were all just sandwich variations; I know how to make a damn sandwich Martha.

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