Muted intimacy

Small-scale hope, big-picture pessimism

I woke up a bit more hopeful after hearing our new, less monstrous president talk about vaccine distribution on the radio. Hopeful and also impressed that a year after we locked down there are efficacious vaccines in circulation for this virus. I remain deeply unimpressed by the uneven and unequal way the crisis has been handled in so many other ways, but this feat of science I find pretty astonishing. And I’m grateful for any reason to hope. Spring is doing colorful things outside, the days will soon get longer. Maybe it’s all going to be okay? That makes me think of the tagline of the MacArthur Foundation, read so often on NPR, about being “committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” Every time I hear that phrase I think for an embarrassingly earnest moment I want that world! It’s a good phrase.

Even though spring is breaking brightly through (and I live in Northern California, where it's often springlike), something about these months of quiet contemplation put me in mind of Alex Colville’s paintings yesterday and I left a few of them open on my desktop all day. I like this muted intimacy, it’s both sad and serene, and very domestic. These fit the way I’m feeling lately. And I love how much he painted dogs.

My bread has leveled up, thanks to a few tweaks recommended by my friend Phyllis. It’s nearing what I would consider bread perfection and from there I don’t know where I’ll go. I’ve made my friend Ryan’s recommended maple and miso salmon twice in the past two weeks: very easy and very delicious. And I made this cake that I first tried at my friend Elise’s—a dense, decadent, vegan coconut cake that takes almost no time to make and is hard to stop picking at. Elise is a master at vegan desserts. Mine always turn out underwhelming but this one is hard to mess up. I’m basically a repository for friends’ recipes these days (and always accepting new ones), as talking about food is one of the central joys of this limited life. I’m becoming my grandmother maybe.

Sunday nights for the past few weeks, my boyfriend and I have watched the Allen v. Farrow documentary. After each episode we sit in silence as the credits roll and then have to process for about an hour. It’s extremely heavy and disturbing and also riveting and also shocking, especially in the way it reveals just how effective Allen’s PR campaign was. So decisively did he and those in his employ dilute, warp, or suppress the available information that much of the public has really spent the past thirty years thinking the whole thing was just kind of a mess. Like hazy, not enough information, we didn’t really know what happened. His career continued and his name was maybe asterisked by some but it was never really tarnished. He remained able to cast any star, he kept making films, albeit increasingly weird ones, like that WASPy tennis porn Match Point which I remember seeing in the theater and thinking the height of Jewish self-loathing. Anyway, this documentary presents a pretty clear and damning case against him. There is much to be said about Mia Farrow, too, but I can’t say it in any neat way here. Okay, just one thing: that she was still having calm phone conversations with Allen (the recordings are in the documentary) after he’d committed statutory rape and basically absconded with one of her daughters and almost certainly molested another is discomfiting to say the least. And speaks either to the terrifying extent of his capacity for psychological manipulation and abuse or to her naiveté or both. The whole thing has made me think a lot about a lot of things, but especially 1) the normalization of male lust for very young girls and 2) the nature of a parent’s, specifically a mother’s, obligation to her children.

I was also thinking about the power of PR the other day when I was writing something and googled Purdue Pharma in order to read about the opioid epidemic. I found that if you google the two words together—purdue opioid—no suggested search terms come up. If you press return, you’ll get the search results (though these also seem aggressively filtered), but Google will provide no helpful suggestions, nothing tethering these two words together. If you start to google purdue op… this is what comes up:

Purdue opportunities! Surely that’s what you meant. This sickening discovery made me wonder how such things are scrubbed—for whom, by whom, how, and for how much. I'll be looking for things to read on this subject now, if I can find any :/ Suggestions welcome.

I’m reading too many things at once but there are too many things to read. I’m working my way though Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Around the World in Eighty Dishes by Lesley Blanch, whose memoir of Russophilia I devoured (and reviewed) a couple years ago. I’m reading an excellent memoir in manuscript form and am excited to be able to talk about it for the world to read it later this year. I’m halfway through Thomas Grattan’s debut novel, The Recent East, about a woman who returns after the fall of the Wall to the ramshackle East German house she left as a child. Now she has her teenage children in tow and all experience the thrills and displacements of their new home differently. The book is absorbing and unique, containing layers of observations about generation, home, sexuality, and family. I’m still deciding how I feel about it. The looming sense of menace (in Germany, abandoned buildings and neo-Nazis) feels not entirely unrelated to another book I’m finally reading, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It’s my first time reading Butler—so many people I love love her work deeply, and my friend James has been urging me to read her for the whole pandemic. I don’t know what took me so long. The book is excellent and perfect to read now. Like all things that take place in a dystopian near-future, it feels now wholly real, plausible, likely, present, almost inevitable. Does ‘dystopia’ still have any meaning?

My paperback comes out in a month and I’m supposed to be doing self-promotion. So: I’m writing book-adjacent essays weekly on Medium, where you can follow me. I reviewed Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation for the LA Times last week and got to write about women and toxic men. I’ll be writing a lot and talking a lot about that and other themes at some virtual events in the coming months and will post links here.

A few good things I read this week:

  • This excellent, harrowing essay in the New Republic about working at a grocery store during the pandemic

  • This fabulous Hannah Gold interview with my hero Vivian Gornick in The Nation

  • This great Ligaya Mishan piece about activists working to remake the food system in the NYT Magazine