15: elisabeth nicula, tiktok beauty, christmas tree salesmen, bella ciao in punjabi
Hello and happy holidays from the new biweekly schedule. This feels right, for right now, with enough breathing room to read a little more leisurely and keep this fun. Those of you who follow me on social media might have seen word of my new 6mo project BXD: The Postwestern Review. Here’s the tl;dr—please do pass on to anyone it might be relevant to!
But—as the diaries expand beyond cajoling my immediate circle of friends, I’d love to be able to pay people even a small token and, maybe even make this more sustainable for myself with enough subscribers. Based on initial feedback, I’ve opened paid subscriptions here at $5/month, Substack’s minimum. I have no idea how many of you will actually sign up, but I will consider < $50/mo a tip jar. Beyond that, I’d like to pay diarists $50 minimum up to $150 each. Beyond $300/m, subscriptions will go towards offsetting the time I spend on this. I like to be transparent about everything; I’ll keep yall posted about any milestones. All emails will still go out to all subscribers regardless!
This week’s diary—from back in early Sept—comes from artist and writer Elisabeth Nicula. We’ll timesync with the first edition next year. Images are from an 18th century book Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabe featuring the first colour images of fish.
Notes on fake decolonisation. The strange and twisted tale of hydroxychloroquine. Confessions of an obsessive quarantine step counter. Being human alongside Covid-19. At hundreds of rehabs, recovery means work without pay. Cricket is giving comfort to Indian and Pakistani immigrants in an increasingly xenophobic Europe. Tethered to the machine. Caste and gender: a systemic obliteration of justice. What DIY couldn’t do for me. The creature comfort of Aunt Jemima. 🔊 Bella Ciao in Punjabi. Built to last. They agreed to meet their mother’s killer. Then tragedy struck again. An oral history of fashion’s response to the AIDS epidemic.
glouglou and snackchat
Dirty kitchen. The secrets of deviled eggs. It’s time to decolonise tea. Mapping the world’s best club sandwiches. Adjika: sauce of glory, pride of Abkazia. Vaughn Tan cooks Shizo Tsuji. If Proust ate Pringles: on the memory and persistence of Heineken. Eating at the forest edge in Nepal. My hunt for the original McDonalds french fry recipe. Life was not a peach. At the Rooh Afza Factory. Neither British nor Chinese: Hong Kong’s cha chaan tengs. How a soup made from cattle feed went from poor man’s food to delicacy. Cooking from Georgia O’Keefe;s recipes. Banana Day at Hudson’s. The tasting menu at the end of the world.
Christmas on a slider. A Caganer Christmas. The first Christmas meal. Why I hate Christmas. How the pandemic is transforming pantos. How Christmas trees are made, explained by a tree farmer. The weird and secretive world of Christmas tree salesmen. The satisfaction of mathematically efficient Christmas cookies. Points of sale. A short history of fruitcake. In Wisconsin, Christmas calls for raw meat on rye. The biology of mistletoe. The real American pie. Christmas is the greatest Jewish holiday. This Christmas punch requires a formerly forbidden fruit. The ghosts of Christmas past. The endurance of A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Vittles. Just Desserts.
language and literature
Tokyo reeks of gasoline. Sex in the theater: Samuel Delaney and Jeremy O. Harris in conversation. Why I paid tenfold to buy back the rights of two of my books.The case of the disappearing novel and the pandemic-struck market. Teaching science fiction while living it in Lebanon. We dive into a new archive of 1000 book covers from the Arab world. A history of punctuation. Life and times of Bangaldeshi literary magazines. Learning the language of Jesus Christ. Pankaj Mishra & Anglo-American delusions. Does knowing god just take practice?
☞\( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)☞ yeehaw
The Journalist and the Pharma Bro. My mommies and me. A TikTok House divided. Inside the deep gun culture of Gwalior, India. How America invented the white woman who just loves fall. The mystery of the immaculate concussion. Facial hair is biologically useless. So why do humans have it? Sex, lies and video games. Lavish parties, Greedy Pols and Panic Rooms: How the ‘Apple of Pot’ collapsed. All the random beauty stuff TikTok taught us this year. Fall of the Palace of Pinks. In a world gone mad, paper planners offer order and delight. Pantone’s colour of the year is really weird—like everything else right now. A fugitive in Montana.
culture diary: elisabeth nicula
I read in bed for a while before going to the kitchen. I can’t tell if it’s foggy or smoky outside. I think about how much I hate the word resilient. Peter makes coffee and I make peanut butter banana smoothies.
I wait for my scrub jay friend the Nufrank. There’s a young robin in one of our neighbors’ beech trees singing its desirous little song. The hummingbird hassles it.
I start the NYT spelling bee and get COCK and BOOB right away.
As I wash my face I hear the Nufrank squawking. I go outside, smell smoke, and close the door behind me. I spend 40 minutes watching out for the Nufrank and his mate Tail Probs, giving them peanuts, and making photos and videos. Tail Probs is looking really gorgeous so I tweet “tail probs looks gorgeous.” She is almost finished with her late summer molt and her head is bright blue, her bib is bright white, and her blue necklace is unbroken. I thought she flew weird because her tail was so fucked up—all the feathers were broken in half and eventually the flappy halves fell off—but now she has a new tail and still hurtles around like a large insect, the kind that probably orients itself by the breeze, or temperature. I need to think of something else to call her.
My Placechat is reading The Common Wind by Julius Scott, about the Black Atlantic’s communication networks in the runup to the Haitian Revolution. I get to a brief mention of Virginia and notice Moses Myers in the citations—I know his name because his was the first Jewish family of my hometown, Norfolk, VA. I’ve been to his house.
My friend Caitlyn sends me a picture of her dahlias and I send her a video of the Nufrank squawking in my face.
I start to worry about provisions and head to the fruit and vegetable market. On the way I look at the black cat who lives at the clock repair shop. This street is sort of closed to car traffic and I walk by myself down the middle. I look at my phone and feel BAD TO THE BONE. I fantasize about street narrowing. I buy eggs, two yellow squashes, dandelion greens, a bag of lemons, tomatoes, a can of coconut milk, oats, and bananas.
When I get home I read about Moses Myers. He was a merchant with offices in Amsterdam, St. Eustatius, and Norfolk. I look at all the 360-degree views people uploaded of St. Eustatius to Google maps. One of them is of a living room. I go back to the museum page I was reading and page search for “slave” but nothing comes up. I think about how much you have to read between the lines all the time.
SCREEN ZINE comes in the mail from queer.archive.work. I eat a cherry Haribo Sour Streamer, which makes my teeth feel bad, and makes me fall asleep on the couch.
I help Peter make pizza. I slice the tomatoes and garlic and then get distracted.
We watch Class Action Park, which reminded me of the nightmares I used to have of being the last person down the tube slide at Water Country USA at the end of the season, and getting stuck in the tube because they capped the end. I howl through the movie until I realize it is a morality tale.
I read an Erowid story about taking sixteen Benadryls to Peter in bed but have to stop because he doesn’t find it relaxing.
I make coffee and open the back door to check the air. I close the door. We sit at the kitchen table together to have our coffee. Peter makes us oatmeal with walnuts, currants, and a plum.
My Tree and Hot Dog Fans groupchat talks about that writing program Scrivener. I hate to organize my thoughts in advance. I think we all agree on this. I have an impeccable system of texting myself little mysteries for several days later, or writing words on the back of my grocery list. I have written these words on the back of a grocery list.
I start to make challah. While I wait for the yeast to foam, the birds come by for one peanut each. I would have given them more if they wanted. I knead the dough for fifteen minutes and while it rises I walk over the hill to the hardware store. One of my houseplants has been dropping leaves and I’m trying to figure out what the god damn problem is. I think it’s the bad air, which is the only change except also maybe my attention. Last week I bought it a humidifier with an LED light show built in. Today I buy a bigger pot and a bag of dirt. I walk home and braid the challah and let it rise again. I cook myself bacon and eggs. Peter helps me repot the plant on the fire escape. It doesn’t look rootbound. There are sprouts I hadn’t noticed along the edge and I plant them in another pot. I brush the challah with egg and adhere the sesame seeds. I move another plant to the old pot. I bake the challah and when it comes out I keep peeking at how beautiful it is. Peter catches me. I think about how all my political awakenings have come after a lot of listening. It’s not deep, I just find this worrisome.
I feel self-conscious that I haven’t gotten any work done this week and know that writing down all the things I’m doing instead doesn’t count. I make yellow curry with tofu.
I send an email about sewing masks to my mother-in-law. Peter checks the mail; I have an envelope containing a cardinal feather, a woodpecker feather, and a white cat’s whisker from my mother.
I do the dishes and take a shower. I hear a skateboarder go by. There’s a fruit fly in my wineglass and I drink around it instead of fishing it out.
I hear distant squawks before I get out of bed. I go to the kitchen and open the back door. The air smells okay and the sky looks okay so I leave it open. I see Tail Probs in the beech tree and she comes over.
I exchange bird pics for bunny pics on Placechat. The Nufrank comes by throughout the morning and I take lots of photos. My phone camera starts taking blue-tinted pictures. It reminds me of the time I got on an airplane and the windows dimmed blue before takeoff and I thought the sun had gone out for a nuclear reason and no one else noticed or cared. I lose the morning this way.
I make tuna salad for a sandwich on my challah with long beautiful dandelion greens. The Nufrank comes by again. His white eyebrows are molting from front to back.
The sprouts I planted yesterday look dead already, which is fine!
I repair an artwork.
I start reading Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” which my friend Simon has chosen for our reading group. So far I am puzzled about what Benjamin means by redemption. I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that other Jews would feel spiritual.
I get really anxious about a piece of writing that isn’t out yet and perform that anxiety online.
I walk up to Twin Peaks. On the way I see clumps of pigeon feathers and think about how often they seem to get eaten by hawks. Skaters pass me bombing the hill. I see white-crowned sparrows and ravens. It’s very windy and when I am at the top I think the Pacific is trying to push me off the Earth with its lungs. The ocean’s breath smells wonderful, like the sage scrub. I take a selfie and walk home.
I eat pickles, cook new rice and heat yesterday’s curry for dinner, and read more of the Theses.
I watch a couple episodes of Monty Don, relating to his sadness and pleasures.
I take a shower in an effort to be more regimented. Peter makes coffee and gives it to me in my favorite glass. The sky looks bad and I don’t want to open the door yet. I look down into the neighbor’s yard and see that she is doing tai chi. I think this would be a good time for my loud bird friend to come by.
My loud bird friend comes by. I go outside to take his picture. It’s smoky and I run my hand over the lemon verbena so I can smell that instead.
Peter gives me a slice of plum and when I eat it the lemon verbena mingles with the plum.
My groupchats discuss the events of the morning: David Graeber; a drone strike cake; Jessica Krug.
I make my smoothie. A cold banana, a cup of coconut milk, tablespoon of peanut butter, teaspoon each of cacao nibs and cocoa powder, cardamom and vanilla, three ice cubes.
I make time pass. I look out the window at the air. I putter around and take the same pictures.
I attend my best friend’s yoga class. For her it is 6:00 p.m. and for me it is 3:00 p.m. I look at my smoke-afflicted plant. I wasn’t going to prune it until it settled into its new pot and the form of its unhappiness became more obvious but after class I can’t help it.
I make chickpea pasta. Peter is in the kitchen on a Zoom meeting and I reply to his half of the conversation.
While we eat dinner I videochat with my best friend and don’t mention the plant.
Peter plays video games with his friends while I finish the Benjamin essay, which turns out to be a ripper. I do the dishes, fold laundry, and wash my face. I’m glad I went for a walk yesterday because today it wasn’t possible.
I wake up while it’s still dark out, feeling anxious about Benjamin and events. I wake up again at first squawk. I wake up again late.
When I go to the kitchen my lip is throbbing for no reason. The sky is hazy but there are distinguishable rounded forms. This is not an urgent sky, it is a regular sky of the long crisis. I make a smoothie. The Nufrank and Tail Probs come by with someone else’s peanuts.
The Nufrank comes back for my peanuts. He looks at me from the fire escape railing until I notice him from the kitchen table. He never squawks at me, only near me.
A friend texts me about another crisis and I try to help figure it out.
I see a tweet going around where you have to pick a punctuation mark to discard forever. I don’t see why we have to be scarcity-minded about punctuation.
We live close to a Whole Foods but I have been avoiding it. Instead I walk to a market two neighborhoods and two hills over. On the way I go through Glen Canyon. Islais Creek, the last free-flowing creek in San Francisco, runs through it. I see a scrub jay on the chert, the creek, and bees going in and out of a hollow tree knot. If I knew plants and trees better I would know what it smells like here. On the way home I walk on the street with my three bags of groceries. I feel like I am providing for my family but of course I am accomplishing things by making them complicated.
I received poetry in the mail—Character Limit by Brendan Joyce. Early on during the new indoor life I could only concentrate on poetry.
I eat a ham sandwich. The Nufrank comes by. I tell Peter I wish I had read the Benjamin 20 years ago and he said "then you wouldn't have had such great people to discuss it with."
The air is worse—from the kitchen I can see a flat lilac haze over the East Bay. I read Sarah Miller’s essay about her walks. I feel depressed and tired. I take a shower and am cleaner but no less depressed. I read The Common Wind.
For dinner we eat the good junk food I bought at the grocery. Crackers, paté, spinach artichoke dip, pickles, mustard, and cheese. Peter gave me too much cheese and I secretly put some of it back but tomorrow I will see that the slices are gone so I guess he noticed.
We watch music videos and I start reading The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan. I wish Chris Thile would just play and not talk. I’m upset that I don’t recognize Edgar Meyer in his quarantine beard even though he sounded like Edgar Meyer.
The plant throws a leaf to the floor right in front of me.
You can’t very well say, today I thought my unspeakable thoughts.
The air smells decent and the sky looks decent. The Nufrank looks good.
I hear a bird call I don’t recognize and think maybe a human baby got snatched up into the air by a hawk.
I drink Peter’s coffee and look at a bag of pasta on the counter and think that what’s inside of the apartment is too normal for what’s outside of the apartment.
I read a tweet about Siberia and another about an anoxic ocean and think about the time I took the bus to Ocean Beach to see a dead gray whale. I read another story in The Dominant Animal. I think my unspeakable thoughts while eating yogurt and granola and blueberries and reading. I hear many squawks and go outside to see the Nufrank. He perches on the shady side of the fire escape and his mouth is open to regulate his temperature. I have given up on finding a drinking vessel he will approve of but I water the lavender, lemon verbena, and rosemary and hope he will figure out something.
I text with my friend and dole out peanuts. Peter brings me a ham sandwich and I finish The Dominant Animal. It’s getting hot in the apartment and we can’t open our windows.
Time passes without calling for transcription.
I make cucumber salad for dinner. I watch some episodes of Young Wallander while Peter practices his bass.
The Moon and Mars are very close to each other in the sky.
We try to sleep with the fan and the air purifier and closed windows and no covers.
I do the spelling bee. Peter and I complicate the task of coffee so that we can make it together.
The Nufrank sings me his little love song. It’s not so hot yet and the air smells okay but the sky looks like shit.
It becomes hot.
In another few days we will wake up to the sky turned international orange, the exact color of our most beloved infrastructure. Come visit San Francisco and see the sights, it’s dark during the day and delightful. In another few days I will type up my notes about Sunday, which I thought was uncomfortable but was not yet terrifying. The Nufrank and Tail Probs were open-mouthed hot but they were not yet crouching in confusion and fear.
I make mac and cheese the way my friend E.B. taught me when we were children. Peter adds kale.
I make this diorama out of the sky, the creek, and some feelings about inevitability.
Peter makes burgers and I make potatoes. It is too hot to cook this but technically required by the holiday weekend.
The Moon and Mars are together again but farther apart.
featured creature: maned wolf
Legs for days! But look at the puppies: