How are you feeling?
What a yo-yo. Back in April, when I called up Ilana Glazer to ask her about the meme (How “am” I?) that captured the mood of early quarantine, she talked about how the scope of things has become so narrow: the highs higher, the lows lower. Everything that has happened since—the brutality and the heartening protests, the inanity of government offset by narrow wins—illustrates that point all the more. I feel like I’m doing too much and too little, which is the only thing I know for certain lately. But recentering, refocusing is what this moment is about. More donations, more calls.
Right now, sunlight is pouring into my kitchen window in Brooklyn: I’m doing just fine. Other days, darker waves can roll in. But I am lucky on many counts. Work keeps me in touch with smart colleagues and all sorts of bright lights (makeup artists, chefs, even an astronaut). My boyfriend, Chris, has mostly settled in at mine. I don’t have kids, so I’m not suddenly running a one-room schoolhouse. No yard access, but I have great neighbors whose curly willow tree makes a good backdrop.
I do find myself missing the public anonymity that New York, in normal times, afforded us. As a shy person, I weirdly feel more exposed these days. The stream of video can at times be invasive rather than humanizing. Being alone with strangers was a gift! But I’m finding moments of connection, too. I bought some fresh-made tamales from the food stylist Mira Evnine, who happens to be a neighbor, and she put them in a milk crate and lowered them down by rope from her third-floor window. Funniest thing I’d seen in a long time.
What are you doing to keep yourself well right now?
On Saturdays, I take a Cunningham dance class on Zoom with a teacher named Janet Charleston. We are kindred spirits with our long braids. The Merce Cunningham Trust is also doing weekday classes on Instagram Live. Early in lockdown, while researching online dance classes for a story, I took quite a few: Ryan Heffington, Dance Church, some ballet. My friend Andrew Dolgin also sent me some DIY yoga videos. He was a teacher of mine for years, and I love his practice: deeply creative, deeply challenging. Now, after a sedentary stretch, I’ve realized how much I need movement in order to feel human. My boyfriend—kind and solution-oriented—hooked me up with a 7-minute workout app and made me a very cute adult-by-way-of-kindergarten progress chart to fill out: meditation, exercise, etc. I’m four days in. Accountability is a great thing.
I’m drinking all sorts of potions and vinegars—things that feel vaguely healthful and break the monotony of plain water. Tomen’s botanical tinctures, formulated with an eye to Chinese medicine and a sommelier’s input, perk up sparkling water. (Long live the Sodastream.) Or I’ll mix in apple cider vinegar with a dash of Sakara’s emerald-green chlorophyll drops. I also like incorporating Zizia’s adaptogenic powders into overnight oats or warmed oat milk. That’s one thing about isolation: Using products made by friends (like Zizia’s Abbe Findley, or Emily L’Ami, who makes Bodha’s smokeless incense) feels like a point of connection.
What are you cooking?
The feel-good parts of eating now extend to the shopping trip. I love the people who run Hart’s in Bed-Stuy, which has been operating as a weekly grocer. We’re picking up things like housemade ricotta, a CSA-style veg box, and grass-fed ground beef. Before this, I rarely ever cooked meat at home, but it’s been rewarding. One week it was Marcella Hazan’s bolognese, followed by burgers inspired by Chris Kronner’s cookbook. (They were good enough to call “wellness.”) We have a whole chicken in the freezer from Cream Co., a sustainability-minded California meat supplier that recently opened up a retail arm, and I want to make Rachel Day’s congee.
Otherwise it’s Mediterranean-ish. I really liked this lablabi—Tunisian chickpea stew—from the New York Times. We’ve got carrots in the oven right now for a tahini situation out of Adeena Sussman’s Sabada. And salad dressings have been kicked up with fermented Meyer lemon preserves from Tart Vinegar (thank you, Chris Crawford!).
I never got around to attempting bread—in part because Adam Leonti, a true gem, is making magic over at Sofia’s. The bread I’ve gotten from him, stored in the freezer and doled out with great care, is perfection.
What are you reading?
I’m going through galleys for The Sqirl Jam Book and John Cage: A Mycological Foray, both due out this month. We recently picked up a hunk of spores from Smallhold (via Archestratus, another weekly grocer) that sprouted a lion’s mane mushroom the size of a cauliflower. Cage would have been pleased.
I have a tiny book from 1970 called Thought, by Peter Max. It’s full of trippy illustrations and mindfulness pearls (it’s dedicated to the “brothers and sisters of the Integral Yoga Institute”). In a time with so much mental chatter, it’s a good reminder to “plunge deep into the innermost recess of your heart and enjoy the great Silence.” (Very much still working on that.)
But the queue for books is deep—old (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me) and new (Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, out in October). Alam wrote his novel pre-COVID, but it hits that “register of discomfort,” as he put it, that we now know so well.
What are you listening to?
Last year a friend mentioned the composer Pauline Oliveros, but it took working at home to make it stick. The slow, evolving tones in 1989’s Deep Listening strangely entwine with the occasional plane and LIRR rumbles out my back window. There’s some Mingus; Steve Reich, too. Last fall I caught the reprised Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker dances, set to Reich’s early works, and the music has lingered with me ever since.
An old friend from work, Diego Hadis, drove by a few weeks back to drop off a housewarming present: Brasil, on vinyl, by the greats João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Maria Bethânia. He said it was belated, but it’s never been more on time. Liquid Liquid is also playing (with album art by the band’s Richard McGuire—worth a follow on Instagram for his art-historical deep cuts). And I just stumbled across Here It Comes Again, from Cate Le Bon and Group Listening. It reimagines five tracks from last year’s Reward, Le Bon’s album that I completely wore out after catching her set in Central Park. Hearing a mostly ambient version of something you know well, with the occasional wan vocals, feels like a reflection of our warped reality. “Sad Nudes,” slightly sadder.
What are you watching?
We just watched the documentary The Queen, about a 1967 drag pageant—a recommendation from the ever-brilliant makeup artist Dick Page. Spaceship Earth was a fascinating look at a very different kind of performance, where visionary (if flawed) thinking met real-world constraints. (The hypercolor interiors are a bonus.) We watched part of a matinée broadcast of Martha Graham’s Heriodades, which had me unearth a 1950s program I have from her company’s tour, along with a Noguchi book showing his sets. We’ve also been rewinding the clock a few years with Broad City. Funny people on subways—so nice.
How are you keeping yourself calm?
A lot of the time I’m not, but I’m trying to rewire some patterns. One thing to remember: Audio-only group calls can be a time for stretching or foam-rolling. Tending to plants is wonderful. Our fuschia just popped open a new lipstick-pink flower. We’ve been watering our baby calamondin tree in the shower. A new cutting is growing tiny roots in an antique wine glass. I’ve also been trimming my split ends like a bonsai master. I confessed as much to my therapist, in case she noticed my snips on the phone, but it’s actually a perfect way to be productive while focusing the attention. My hair is so long it legit tucks into my pants.
What have you revisited during this time?
Frisbee in the park. Bike rides. We joined a giant bike protest last month that went from Grand Army Plaza though Bed-Stuy and over the Williamsburg Bridge, looping across Manhattan and back to Brooklyn. I’d never been over a bridge before and was fully cooked, but it was a really meaningful evening. And I’ve been heartened by old-fashioned exchange. My friends Avril Nolan and Quy Nguyen, the exquisite eyes behind Form Atelier, dropped off ramps and baby lettuces in the spring, along with anise-flavored toothpaste right when I realized I’d run out; the other day I brought them a mixed bag of mushrooms from Archestratus and a minimalist body cream. My friend Anna Surbatovich, a prop stylist, swung by with housewarming towels; she sends nightly photos of her new rescue kitten. And the mail! Bless the USPS and the pen pals it supports: treasures from Fran Miller of F. Miller, a wax-sealed letter from Pearl Jones, a card from my niece and nephew with their hand-drawn paw prints.
Any other tips or words of comfort you would like to share?
My boyfriend, Chris Beeston, makes lamps out of odd dollar-store finds as part of his art practice. One of his recent pieces—a light-up stack of tupperware—has become something of a mantra these days. The original label says PRESERVATION BOX in one corner, and then FRESH 100% ENJOY LIFE. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do: to find pleasure amid all the weird and fucked-up parts, and to save what’s worth saving? (Voting rights, for starters.) Even what constitutes “life” is being redefined. Our farmers’ market tulips died in this perfect, painterly way: still life.