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A bit about masks

Not a great photo but there I am in a hand-embroidered mask from the Mexican store on 3rd Street, La Sirena. Can you see that it's two colorful donkeys? My friend Paula has "donks," as she calls them, & I am dying to visit & meet them in person. I liked her before I knew about the donks but that certainly is a delightful point in her favor. Oh right, masks. Yeah, still wearing them, still rolling my eyes at those who don't, still tired of the situation but determined to see it through. I want to be able to look back (when! if) & feel like I behaved honorably throughout. And honestly, how little is really being asked of us! My magnificent, beloved 96-year-old cousin Hazel (me mum's first cousin, they grew up together in Liverpool) wrote me this the other day:


Hi Elinor,  our turn now to sizzle in the sun, roasting hot so in the sitting room with the fan going full blast.  I have tried puting on a mask,  my hearing aid fell out,  my glasses went skewed and I was all hot and bothered. I just try not to go anywhere that a mask is required. 


During the war to confuse the German bombers we maintained a strict blackout, this meant no lights were to be seen so thick curtains or painted black windows. No street lights and car headlights had a ,cover to direct the light on to the ground, that's if you had any petrol as this was rationed. All road signs were taken down I really can't  think how we managed to get anywhere! A new type of incendiary  bomb was found unexploded, it was placed in a wooden crate packed with straw!  I was sent with an armed guard to bomb disposal down South with instructions that if it started to fizz bail out!  He never did stand guard when we made an overnight stop.  When  I reached a certain destination I had to ring a  number for directions all very James Bond. 

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Monday Quote

Consider the savage: he has bodily strength, he has courage, enterprise, and is often not without intelligence; what makes all savage communities poor and feeble? The same cause which prevented the lions and tigers from long ago extirpating the race of men—incapacity of co-operation. It is only civilized beings who can combine. All combination is compromise: it is the sacrifice of some portion of individual will, for a common purpose. The savage cannot bear to sacrifice, for any purpose, the satisfaction of his individual will. His social cannot even temporarily prevail over his selfish feelings, nor his impulses bend to his calculations.

~ John Stuart Mill (1806-73), from Civilization


And there you have it. 


Should I read more of him? Is there a dark underbelly as seems to be the case for so many 19th-century philsophers? 

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What's in a NAME

If I spell my name idiosyncratically, say, ELINor nauEN or eLiNoR nAuEn, & maybe even legally change it to that, is every place that publishes me required to follow my whim? Even if a sentence begins with my name, would it have to start with a lower case letter because that's how I prefer it? Isn't there some egotism in refusing standard capitalization by spelling one's name with all lower letters? What stands out in a sentence such as this: "John Smith, Jane Thorogood Doe, and bob thomson met for dinner two nights ago."


There's the argument that I, the editor, should abide by the person's desires. "...[I]t's my name and i should be able to frame it as i see fit... Why must it follow some New York Times standard guide for naming?" says danah[sic] michele[sic] boyd[sic]. 


Someone named Idris Mercer is cranky as hell but like him, standard English is a pet peeve of mine. In a piece from 2005, he writes: 

If you ask to be called "Dawn" rather than "Kathryn," it's like you belong to a chess club where the various sets of chess pieces don't quite look identical, and you ask to use one particular set because you think its rooks have a nicer shape. But if you ask to be called "kathryn" rather than "Kathryn" -- and everyone else's name is capitalized -- then it's more like you belong to the chess club and you ask that your rooks be allowed to move in a different way from everyone else's rooks... One of the comments from "On the difficult matter of names" puts it quite well: "My personal feeling is that one should be permitted control over the spelling and pronunciation* of one's own name up to the point that the name does not start taking over its immediate environment."


Slate copyeditor Abby McIntyre writes: 

But in standard print, capitalizing these proper names is not an act of violence nor of authoritarianism nor of betrayal. It is simply an attempt at clarity. "Capitalization is part of the social convention for writing English," writes Bill Poser at the Language Log. When a reader opens up an article or a blog post here at Slate or elsewhere, she does so with the expectation that it will conform to these "social conventions" of written English—certain norms and syntactic cues that will help digest the information therein as easily as possible. Capitalization is one of those cues. When I capitalize Danah Boyd or Bell Hooks, it's not meant as an affront on those women but as an overture to the reader.


Our job as writers and editors is to make things as easy and clear for the reader. If the writer knows what they mean, but I get tangled up in it, I ask them to clarify. Of course I'm excepting style choices (dialect, for example) etc, but that has to be consistent. I object to finding a single ELINOR or paul bobbing in a sea of Johnnys, Maggies, and Georges.



* I acknowledge the political aspect of this topic...

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Poem of the Week

How to Like Your Life


Don't have money worries

Have plenty time

That's the way I like it


Be interested

Write it down

That's the day I like it


Walk on, talk long

Read a good book

That's the play I like it

What the hey I like it


Buy books

Buy shoes

Come what may I like it


That's the way I like it

That's the day I like it

Whatever you say I like it

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On the roof

One of those tomatoes has disappeared in the day or 2 since I took this picture!

And we have our sad little garden. Everyone else is displaying (& sharing) their bounty & we are hoping the fiendish squirrel doesn't eat any of the 3 hard little tomatoes, sprung up since the zucchini was annihilated. We also have a basil plant that's the same size it was 3 months ago & some bitter lettuce. 

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On the roof

There's also this. George is the handyman for the building. Is it possible to do shoddier work? I won't let him in my house because he leaves a mess & whatever he fixes has to be fixed again in no time. It's amazing that Mike-the-landlord continues to employ him, especially now that all the apartments aren't cheap dumps. 

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On the roof

This amazing sky that I probably would not have stared at or photographed or even noticed if it weren't for spending so much time on the roof of our building. That's one reason that it hasn't been the worst summer ever. Or maybe it has—who remembers "before"? Actually it feels like it's simultaneously the worst & the best, which is dang confusing. 

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Monday Quote

"I'm glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, 'This is where I belong, this is it."

~ E. B. White, letter to Stanley Hart White January 1947


I met him once, when he brought a pair of his wife's (tiny) shoes into the shoe repair store where I worked in Ellsworth, Maine. I said, E.B. White? I love you! And in an utterly kind way, he said, I love you too. It was obvious that he responded to people with what they brought to him. He wasn't interested in me but he gave me a genuine moment. 

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Poetry Project c. 1981

Me, Bernadette Mayer, Ted Berrigan, Ed Friedman, voting for the community seat on the Poetry Project board.

The wonderful Nick Sturm sent me this video of a Swiss TV show (in German) filmed at the Poetry Project in 1981 that he figured out how to get onto YouTube. Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen (unchanged—how is that even possible?), Ron Padgett, Elio Schneeman, Steve Carey, Bob Holman, Brodey, Ginsberg, Barg + cameos of lots of others (Rene Ricard, Steve Levine, Rose Lesniak, Danny Krakauer). I really miss Ted's voice, & I miss Ted & all the others who aren't around. It's probably only fun to watch if you know the people but I loved seeing these snatches of what I now realize is the past, although I can't say when that happened.


Small note: neither my husband nor my best friend recognized me. Will you? 

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Poem of the Week

Wild Cat


It's never restful

to talk with impatient



the ones who watch your eyes

as you look



they speak too soft

they laugh late

they have a tragedy


and then

they keep you here

by dismissing you

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Domesticity & me

Why was there a giant ice floe at the back of the fridge—not the freezer, the fridge? Why couldn't I chip it off with a butter knife & rubber mallet like I used to do when our freezer that didn't even work filled with ice every week? Instead, the shelf shattered & then I spent an hour picking up the glass & still trying to get that ice out. A mug was so stuck that when I tried to pull it out, I yanked off the handle. Where can I get a replacement shelf? Do I have to get a whole nother refrigerator? I thought it would cost $400 for a fridge but the cheapest one I can find costs $1,000. I will be better off trying to find a shelf. Where do shelves come from? My landlord, who sells appliances, was no help. This is exhausting. 

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My day, my books

What I'm reading now: 

• The Education of Henry Adams, the grandson & great-grandson of presidents, he is humble & hilarious in this autobiography. 

• Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. It's 900 pages (+ 150 pages of notes), Pulitzer Prize–winning, & riveting. And this is only part 1 of 3. 

• Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, by Modris Eksteins. Not as gripping as I'd expected, given my interest in the topic. But now that he's in Berlin (instead of with dancers in Paris), I'm revving up. 

• Poems of Steve Carey. If I ever forget his big generous voice, these give it back to me. 

• Helen in Egypt, by H.D. Beautiful & valiant.

• Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaag. Sadly, I'm coming to the end. The copy I"m reading is at home & I appreciate having one at my office as well. 


I'm reading a few things on Kindle too—The Mill on the Floss, a Swediah mystery, essays by Diana Athill. And the newspapers. I am fine with reading on my phone or iPad but there's nothing like holding a book, even one so heavy, like the Taylor Branch, that I am giving myself a torn muscle in my arm. I guess reading is what I do most of the day. Why don't I have a better chair? 

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We got an hour or two of hard rain, branches down, & now it is so lovely & cool, & the light is light not thick with heat. 


Life is so terrible & wonderful. 

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Monday Quote

One day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives, the Secretary impatiently broke out: "You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!"  


The most troublesome task of a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to decency.  


I'm reading with huge enjoyment The Education of Henry Adams. These are both quotes from the chapter on President Grant, but there are frequent observations that seem just as timely as they must have 150 years ago. And it's interesting to be the fly on the wall of diplomatic maneuvers in England during the Civil War when his father (son of President John Quincy Adams) was representing the federal government there. This is just one example of his wry take on affairs of the day.

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"Dear Grandma"

Caitlin is now a week shy of being 22 & a graduate of Cornell University in one of those technical fields that I'm afraid to ask what it is she knows. Sean still bothers her & everyone has forgotten who Charlie was. And yes, honey, Grandpa is crazy. Apparently I'm his only wife who thinks that's funny & not annoying, which is why our marriage as lasted all this time.
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In the neighborhood

I guess self-improvement with a roommate can only go so far. At least that's what I imagine is the reason I saw this abandoned on 3rd St early this morning. 

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House Reunion 1976

Of the 10 people in this picture that I knew when it was taken, I have seen or spoken with more than half recently. They are some of my oldest & closest friends. I love to look at us then & think about how much more beautiful we are now, with the richness of our lives building our faces & characters & friendships. 


Time Wasn't Linear


I have never been disappointed 

in anyone who was part of the House

it was formative


how I knew the world

I wanted

was possible 


We arrived & were enlightened

— just like that! —


then spent the next 50 years

believing it


though we always acted

with belief


the big bang of understanding

as we reassemble the shards


We're from Syracuse & Spartanburg,

Bridgeport & Sioux Falls,

Alabama, Ohio & Tennessee 

but our true homeland is The House

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Hope ... springs...

There's TWO tomatoes now. One is microscopic. 

Despite the catastrophic end of the zucchini, I am (overly) excited about our tomato. How do people get buckets full? We so hope to get one. This one. The only one. 


A farmer's life is difficult & tragic. 


However, I bought the whole Harvard classics in 71 volumes for Kindle for $1.99. I would be surprised if I read a word of it—everything from Ben Franklin to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson by way of Machiavelli, Locke, Pasteur, English poetry, Darwin, et hundreds al—but it was irresistible. 

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No particular place to go

The photo doesn't do justice to the colors & sweep. (See all the comets?) Not enhanced in any way. 


Last night I finally felt OK about this summer. Despite the anxieties & restrictions, it seemed like there was nothing I wanted more than to bask on the roof, fret over our one tiny tomato (after giving up on the zucchini, which got gnawed to the nub) & talk casually/seriously with my best friend. Night after night.


It feels like the 1970s (or even older — from summer vacation as a kid), when I had all the time in the world, no place I had to be & nothing I had to do, & couldn't afford it if I wanted to do something else. Just waiting for whatever might happen & it was always interesting at least, an adventure at best. I'm beginning to reclaim the wide-open feeling of waking up & having the whole day to myself. I thought, this might turn out to be a wonderful summer, despite everything. 


Also, we saw fireflies up on the roof. 

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Monday Quote

There's a hydra effect when it comes to reading that I'm sure most readers can relate to: cut the head off one book and two or more take its place on your to-read list. The ungraspable infinity of literature makes choosing the next book more important than we may realize.

~ George Salis in an interview about his first novel


George Salis is a young author & publisher, who I first met because he's a fan of my husband, Johnny Stanton. Check him out & I'm sure you, too, will fall under his spell. 


The first sentence is absolutely true. The second, probably but dauntingly true. 

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To comet or not to comet

It's so hot that walking 3 blocks feels like too much so am I really going to haul my bones over to the West Side (a mile or more!) to try to see the stupid comet? When I want to lie bathed in a/c reading the dignified gossip of Diana Athill? Even knowing that if I don't see it TONIGHT*, I won't get a chance again for 6,800 years isn't stiffening my resolve. I have suffered no repercussions from having missed Hale-Bopp in 1996. As for Halley's in 1986, we did go to the Rockaways, about which you can read in my story, published in Transfer a year or so later, "Me Turtle Be Dead." Is one comet enough for a lifetime? All that distance & silence. I want to be small not enormous I think. 


* Apparently we have another week or 2, the deadline isn't tonight. So it ain't gonna be tonight!

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Poem of the Week

He didn't mind dying but he minded leaving me, I think.

My Cat Buster




Buster curling on himself

a disappearing wisp

tomorrow he'll die


Buster still as loving

wanting my hand as he goes

on ahead


Buster the large-souled kindness

Buster the nonjudgmental

Buster the beloved








I carried him in my arms

wrapped in a towel

he couldn't walk

I couldn't


put him in the carrier

& let him bang against me

it was warm out & sunny

he blinked


& turned

his face

to the sun

& smiled


even dying

he had a kitten

love for fresh

air & adventure


& then he looked at me

he stared in my eyes

& we told each other it was OK,

this parting,


that we were grateful for love & care

that I was his & he was mine

& the rest didn't matter.

He stared at me: Will you let me go?


I don't want to

but there's no body left

to hold his love.

Buster leaves on his own terms


He decided how it was to be

His body threw him into spasm

& he was gone



this will be 20 years ago

& 100 years ago & I will

be forgotten

Buster is in my heart



I call for him though I know he's not there

I look on his chair & at his dish

my hand rolls to his spot

his smile in the sunshine

despite the hard work of dying

such grace

to take every bit of life

& all I did was give him treats &

all he did was love me

& show me

how to be with him

Buster the purringest cat

Buster the accepting

Buster who loved me


it's lonesome in our house



[[[not sure this is ready but I need to get it away from me]]]

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Privilege & restrictions

This view from my roof makes it all worthwhile. 

Very consistently these days, the people who have it the hardest refer to themselves as lucky (or "very, very lucky") & those who have it the easiest complain the most (& often behave the most, ah, individualistically). Two of many typical examples: 


= A woman I know with 3 young children, one of whom has special needs, tells me how fortunate she is because she has access to her ex-husband's pool during this heatwave. What she'll do when her childcare runs out next month, she doesn't know, but she's grateful for it now.


= Contrast that with another woman I know who sobbed because she had to moderate her exercise routine. She lives in an area of parks & lakes, has gone on overnights to outdoor areas, & has treadmills & the like in her house. But all she could talk about was how deprived she is. She has even acted on her privilege of ignoring the virus to vacation in the Caribbean. 


One thing that has helped here in New York City is that it's close to impossible to be solipsistic. You have to share: transportation, buildings, sidewalks, parks. You don't get to park where you want & drive everywhere without seeing your neighbors. We are used to being part of a commons. That's also in part because we have a long tradition of strong local/state government. I can't say which comes first but we are, I think, more used to taking others (many others) into account. It's clear to us that a "risk I'm willing to take" affects a lot of people. For people outside of small towns or large cities, a sacrifice for the common good is more abstract. 


One outcome is that New York State, after a horrendous start, has brought our C19 rate down to European levels. We're one of a handful of states, most in the Northeast, with dropping or stable numbers. 


People live where & how they live & I don't mean this critically as much as I've been trying to understand why I've been so peeved lately. Honestly, I feel like I already live close to the bone (by my choice! no regrets!) — but it's hard to give up things like anticipating trips or browsing at the library, especially when a lot of people I know are giving up so much less & griping so much more. I feel like I'm saying "saltines for dinner? yay!" & they're turning up their noses at "steak again." It's a feeling not a fact, because I AM incredibly lucky & really almost not bitching, but I guess I don't want to hear it from them. 

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A few minutes ago my eye was caught by a book on my shelves that I'm quite sure has sat there for 25 years unopened, even though it's a topic that interests me. The book: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, published in 1990. Why have I never read it? I wondered, & pulled it off the shelf to put in the to-read-next pile. The bookmark has a phone number in Johnny's handwriting so it must have been Johnny's not mine.


One minute later, I got an email from Amazon suggesting I might be interested in that very same book. 


How is this possible? Did I fall asleep & wake up with a tracker implanted? It's not a recent book & I haven't looked at any WWI books lately. 


I'm puzzled.


Should I be freaked out?

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Not a bad day!

My friend JP took this picture from his home in Hawaii. 

It's 200° out, at least, so every time I wiggle, I practically have a heat stroke. But I managed to get a new battery for my phone (Simple Mac, they're the best!) & run into the lively Sheila R, who spends time in my old Maine stomping grounds, & say hi to the guys at B&H, & wash my hair, & & &. I can't really make that sound like a very active day, can I? I think I went to the store but that may have been yesterday. Maybe we'll walk over to the west side tonight & try to spot the coment. Neowise. I wish it had a better name. 

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