Thursday, 2 April 2020

The Autumn of Our Spring

“Each day she sensed something creeping nearer. If it was happening to someone, it being unspeakable violence, how could she be happy: the real question of existence.” – Olivia Laing, Crudo 

Before the pandemic, I remember seeing a triangle of winter light out the window of Ben's apartment and feeling pure happiness. Everything good was contained in that shard of sun. That was before, but there will be other triangles.

My ancestors were stained glass artists. Here is what my great, great grandmother’s brother wrote in his memoirs: “An experienced glass stainer cannot be entirely sure that the work will live up to his conceptions. I admit that on more than one occasion I have, to the best of my knowledge, prepared everything properly in my studio, and yet I was greatly disappointed that the work, once in place, was not what I had intended.” When I read this I thought, “Ah, we are the same.”

Jenn's Bean Diaries, #3

I'm fine.

Bea and I are fine.

Against Anti-Productivity

Look, if you're a home right now, you're lucky. Granted, it can be hard to do anything! The terrible news is mounting, the government is incapable, we are suddenly faced with the details of our mundane lives that we usually distract ourselves enough to ignore.

So should we be productive during quarantine? And if not, should we feel bad about it? These publications have kept themselves busy generating content about productivity itself, namely how it's not a big deal, since staying at home is work enough in itself.

Time for #Coffeecore

I know some people find aestheticising in the midst of pandemic crass, anti-material, oblivious to the needs of dying bodies. Maybe they're right. Maybe I'll regret leaning into the roses of 'bread and roses'. Right now though, I am coping with the fact that the coffeeshop is usually the calm workspace with background hum in my life, and like many of you, I am now deprived of it. A lucky deprivation and small, in a world of gross and horrific deprivations, but still. 

I have previously resisted the Kawaii, the self-consciously over cute, but now I have a bullet journal and a hand-stitched mask that I embroidered with the Latin word for hope. I don't quite know how this happened. Perhaps my response to fear is to revert to an aesthetic of softness. Is this a cop out, a dodge? Maybe, probably. But that's what coping is, right? I'm not nostalgic for the prior world, because that wasn't this cutely or gently inscribed either.

Now, I'm sucking you all into my softness cult, my complete aestheticisation of the private cosseted world of my imaginary. I'm giving you my animated coffeeshop gifs on infinite loop. I hope they feel like a cashmere sweater, like anything but the well-trod spaces of your apartment, like low-fi tracks in visual stereo, like hygge, only less sinister somehow for their actual non-existence in a physical or political sphere. The "look" is from mostly spare, pastel-ish, 90's animes digested into clips by teenage Tumblr users since about 2011.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Curious Case of the Ground Floor Apartment in the Building Across the Street From Me

Edward Hopper, Night Windows, 1928

Ever since I started taking an extended sabbatical from Online™ I both have no idea what's going on for the most part and have started to wonder about pretty insipid minutiae in my daily life. Hence why a ground floor apartment in the building across the street from me is what is currently occupying my ignorant, crisis-absentee brain.

I would like to preface this post by saying that I, like everyone else who lives in cities, enjoy peering into other people's apartments when they are lit up at night. If you don't like doing this as well, you are a very bad liar. I'm pretty sure there is even a word for this phenomenon in some other, more poetic language like German or Japanese, but I can't remember.

We begin our story a few months ago on some routine nightly walks with the dog, during which I cannot help but catch glimpses into the many apartments in the rather dense part of DC in which I reside.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

suddenly outback steakhouse makes sense

The other day, I FaceTimed with a dear friend: She was wearing a renaissance halo headpiece, drinking a margarita, and worried about losing her business.

Another friend hosts a nightly cooking show, complete with theme song and credits, that broadcasts to only 10 people. He and his wife do it six days a week, including on their wedding anniversary: They’re just making dinner to an audience of their parents and some friends, but, every night I tune in, and over the weeks, it’s gone from novelty to lifeline for a number of us who watch.

that thing where you read a random quote and decide it's a metaphor for the state of the world

I had a giant freak-out yesterday afternoon. And then I watched The Wailing (2016) with my mom in the evening.


I think my brain might be freshly broken in ways I don’t yet understand. I think this in part because I can’t stop listening to Cardi B scream about coronavirus. In the three weeks since Cardi posted the clip on Instagram, I’ve probably accounted for an outsize share of its nearly 28 million views, and I find myself wanting to sing-yell in reply.

“Corona-viiiiii-rus!” She dips into a double-knee bend. “CORONA-VIIIIII-RUS!”

Dog Days

Like a lot of you, my husband Chris and I recently decided now would be a great time to foster a dog. We’re trapped at home, our muscles are atrophying and our community is in peril. We wanted to help. Each day is the same struggle against boredom and helplessness, and taking in a very good boy seemed like a self-care silver bullet. “I need a baby, H.I., they got more than they can handle!” I shouted at Chris all day, channeling my inner Raising Arizona. It worked out; my need for a foster dog and my city's need for me fed into each other, an ouroboros of problem and solution. And so one week ago and after the LA Animal Services approved our application, we drove to the shelter to pick up the answer to all life’s problems.

Monday, 30 March 2020

I call this cocktail The Quarantine

I started out quarantine not feeling like drinking much, but at this point the day shading into evening is also peak Anxiety Hour. One night I wanted a cocktail but we were out of bourbon, a situation since remedied, but had plenty of cognac (made of grapes instead of corn mash!). Also we had Punt e Mes vermouth, so I mixed them together and added a dash of orange bitters. It was surprisingly good!

This drink is called The Quarantine because after you have one you don't feel like leaving the house. Turns out it's a riff on a Metropole or Vieux Carré, but only cognac and proportionally less vermouth. I like having less vermouth for that stronger, Manhattan-but-not-cough-syrupy flavor. Punt e Mes is also a little less saccharine than other brands of vermouth, I think. Classy!


2 parts Cognac
1 part Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes for preference)
5 shakes orange bitters
Orange peel (or clementine peel if you've sanitized your oranges and can't use the skin)

Mix the cognac and sweet vermouth together with ice in a cocktail shaker. Add bitters and stir more. Pour into a glass, probably with the ice. Squeeze the orange peel and throw it in. Wash your hands before drinking.


Still from Ingrid Goes West, 2017

I've sent a grotesque amount of Instagram DMs in the past week. I used to be kind of picky about watching people's Insta stories. Partially because I found out way too late in the stories game that people SEE who LOOKS at their junk. When someone told me this it RATTLED me to my core because since I was in high school I've had an obsession with guy friend's girlfriends.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The House that Purell Built

Tormentedly Untainted, 2019 by Chloe Wise (detail) 

Back when I lived in Brooklyn and it was safe to go into other people’s homes, I spent a year working as a landscaper. It was good, hard work and I was very bad at it, although I tried. Most days my boss and coworker and I would stuff the company’s Toyota Echo with shovels and rakes and leaking bags of cement or mulch, or else we’d carefully fill the hatchback with moist containers of myrtle, creeping jenny, and clematis and be out in Ditmas or Park Slope, laying slate, trimming the perennials. Each day I’d get filthy and mis-gendered. I loved it. 

Briefly Reviewed: National Coronavirus Information Design on Twitter

I can't think of another occasion where literally every country on the planet has cause to publicly report the same grim information, every single day. The Olympics come close, I guess.

At first I only followed the UK and Scottish virus tweets, but after seeing a tweet from Kuwait with a wildly different design, I wondered what other countries were doing. What can I say? Coronavirus intersects with everything we do and everything we're interested in – and in my case, it's information design.

So, let's take a spin around the globe:

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Turnstiles or Literature from the Periphery

I have been listening to Billy Joel’s 1976 album, Turnstiles, on repeat. It’s the ultimate normie album, written for a caricatured America that includes just two cities of note. But Billy Joel, the king of normies, is also the king of mourning normalcy. The perfect quarantine soundtrack for those of us toggling between political anger and fully automated luxury autofiction.

I listen, and I cry. The piano man isn’t playing for anyone now. You will not have dinner with your lost love at an Italian restaurant. (Neither of these songs are on Turnstiles but you get the point.)

 So I wrote a mini essay for each song on Turnstiles:

Don't look under the bed!

Last night, it happened: I really lost it. 

I was just so tired, and a little drunk again, a little drunk for the eighth night in a row at least, and I'd Zoomed with my family and I'd FaceTimed with Ashley and Lizzie and then it was still not even 9 PM. I cracked, and I looked under the bed. 

I'll tell you what I found: a postcard from a French restaurant in Soho. I've been there only once. I went there for dinner with my ex-boyfriend in November 2018, on a Friday night, after I'd gotten back from an afternoon on Staten Island, interviewing people who hang up Christmas lights on fancy houses. He liked to get drunk but usually with other boys, and I remember that night because he got very drunk with just me.

Here's what I did with the postcard: I taped it to my refrigerator.

A Personal Message From Adrian Hon, Indoor Voices Blogger

Dear Indoor Voices Reader,

In these uncertain times, I wanted to reach out to you personally about what I am doing here at this Kottke-approved Quarantine Group Blog to support you and your browsing plans. As the situation around novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, I am doing everything I can to ensure your continued supply of quarantine takes.

Professional Formatting

I will convey the seriousness of this situation by eschewing frivolous gifs obtained illegally via Google Image Search and instead use our corporate logo (centred) above a professional white background. All text will remain black and unadorned of emojis.

Friday, 27 March 2020

What Should You Do Tonight? Mar. 27

Weekend edition! See the tag for more suggestions.

Celebrate Mariah Carey

Today is Mariah Carey's "life anniversary" (not birthday, as per her instructions) and you should listen to her music before bed. "Underneath The Stars" is a perfectly written song. So is "Honey." Most of her catalogue and 19 #1s, too. — Myles Tanzer 

Learn How to Tie Your Shoes

Ok so something not a lot of people know about me is I'm pretty bad at tying my shoes!!! I had really bad fine motor skills as a child so I never really developed the muscle memory to...tie knots correctly. Instead of going out and having fun like people did in the days of yore, I'm going to spend all weekend watching YouTube videos on knot-tying until my brain oozes out of my ears! — Sophie Kemp

Brits in Greece

Tonight, you should watch The Durrells in Corfu, a charming, unexpectedly modern family sitcom set in Greece in in the 1930s. It's the real-life story of the Durrell family, who fled the dreary southern coast of England and moved to Corfu just because, and the resulting four season adventure is bright, witty and surprisingly familiar, as the titular family feels like one you know all too well. It's available on PBS Passport and Amazon Prime, and it's a fun adventure to leave your home where you live and spend all of your time and see the world with new friends. — Nick Andersen

Express Gratitude

Lately, my husband and I have begun sharing what we're grateful for before dinner each night. Expressing gratitude is something that can really help tune our heads to what is positive, especially amidst this endless torrent of tragedy. Our moods affect our immune systems, so taking care of our spirits in whatever ways we can is an additional method of staying vigilant during these times. — Sandy Allen

Attend the Theatre

Just because every theater on Broadway is closed doesn't mean you can't take in a show. Thanks to the YouTube channel TastySurrealBowl (the Joseph Papp of our times?), the 1984 PBS recording of Sam Shepard's Pulitzer-finalist play True West is available to stream in its entirety. Taking place in the desert 40 miles east of LA, the production stars Gary Sinise and John Malkovich as estranged brothers housesitting for their mother. Sinise plays the hack screenwriter, Malkovich the loose-canon house burglar, naturally. But over a couple long days and nights with nothing but their mother's booze and each other's company, the oppressive emptiness of the desert starts to get to the pair (“those are the most monotonous fuckin' crickets I ever heard in my life," Malkovich growls to himself) and slowly the brothers switch places, the vagrant selling a script, the screenwriter stealing every toaster oven in the neighborhood. Full of madness and claustrophobia and Malkovich whipping pieces of toast at Sinise's head, it's a perfect show for these times. In the words of a sloshed Sinise, “This isn't champagne anymore. We went through the champagne a long time ago. This is serious stuff. The days of champagne are long gone.” — Natalie Beach

Watch Instagram Cooking Videos

But specifically this Korean cooking channel. Going down the page and reading the captions of the video freeze frames is the only kind of poetry my brain can handle at the moment. — Clare Mao

Crispy red onion
do u want~?
kiya.. Hit by a car..
Eat me quickly
very easy ^^
very very easy ^^

Dystopian City Movies

American cinema uses New York as a vehicle for the aspirations or anxieties present in an era, and in our current moment, the city is the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, a proxy for the country's fears. Aude and I have embarked on a movie marathon to see how filmmakers used the concerns present in American society to create dystopian visions for the future or alternative visions of the present. There's a comfort in knowing that their depictions of the years 1997 or 2022 look nothing like our current reality and what we are fixated on now will pass. We have expanded the concept to include how other cities are used in a similar fashion. Films include: "Soylent Green", "Escape from New York", "The Warriors", "Logan's Run" (Washington DC), "12 Monkeys" (Baltimore / Philadelphia), "Bladerunner" (LA), "They Live" (LA), and "Brazil" (London) — Michael Crommett

Italian Cinema

Open a heavy red wine you have been saving for a special occasion. This is the special occasion. Let it breathe. Rent La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) by Paolo Sorrentino through Criterion or Amazon Prime. Watch it on the largest screen you own, with the volume as high as you can put it without being a dick to your neighbors. Sit back, drink the wine, and weep as prolifically as you can. — Jennifer Schaffer

Farmers Markets 

I'm heading to the McGoldrick Park farmers market in Greenpoint on Sunday. The fish guy, pickle people and Orwashers bread will definitely be there every week until Down to Earth Markets suspends. — Jenn de la Vega

there should be lifestyle anarchy

Whether it's a form of emotional mediation or self-denial, I've found myself trying to do what's often been advised in this prolonged state of social isolation, which is to stick to a routine and time-table as if we were under normal conditions. You know, things like "dress up even though you're not leaving your house," or "keep your regular meetings," or "adhere to social graces, like saying hello," or "eat a normal breakfast like eggs and not, say, candy." Because, I'm told, structure is helpful when the days mash and bleed together to a point of lost definition like smashed potatoes.

(Tangentially, I heard this very same piece of advice was given to Will Smith as he prepared for his role on I Am Legend, which I'm not sure whether is underrated as a Will Smith, but is definitely underrated as a Dog Movie. It's certainly better than Balto, which is bullshit.)

Oh, So You Have a Second Home?

“I used the last of the miso paste... how irresponsible of me,” I said, to the extended family—aunts, uncles, colleagues, grandparents, TAs, partners, and gurus—gathered before me in our vacation home in a farflung part of Maine.

Raising awareness, now more than ever!

H.P. Lovecraft and his cat, whose name you should Google
Do you ever get a phrase stuck in your head? Like it just repeats over and over and over, and even though there's no sound inside your brainpan it's still somehow there? That happens to me a lot. More lately, to be honest, probably because I'm not speaking as much as I normally do.

Anyway, there are two that have been tormenting me during my waking hours, lately: "now more than ever," which is a shitty sentiment even at the best times — let's be honest, it's nearly always used to whip up jingoistic furor in service of some atrocity — and "raising awareness," which is emptier than hell itself. (All those demons and lost souls are here.)