Thursday, May 28, 2009


ah, life is using me like a speedbag. been too tired and too overwhelmed to check in here, and for that my apologies. like a child's balloon set free by the little hand, i rise and sink with each new prevailing force: the uplift of praise and attention for the book, the sinking dread of waiting (will the Times ever notice?). i feel alternately blessed in the extreme for being here and being this close to being able to share one of my great loves with a large number of people (yes, darlings, read good things!) but on the other shut out of the inner sanctum, shibboleth-less, not able to overcome nepotism and better networkers and all the rest. First i compare myself to my savvy New York friends and i think that of course i could never succeed; i bemoan my bucolic roots, my lack of this and that and the other. then i remember those roots and think how happy almost anyone from my highschool would be to be in my shoes, how surprised they'll be at the 25th reunion, and how fortunate i've obviously been to get this far. i said to a friend the other day that i should write the word "grateful" on post-its and put them all over my apartment, office desk, messenger bag, etc., just to remember where i am and what i've been able to do and how full the glass really is.

the stack there, of course, are the 50 books in B on the B. it was A.J. Jacobs' idea to stack them; he did it with his encyclopedias following his magisterial reading of them all for The Know-It-All. i had them like that in my apartment for a few weeks; they're almost as tall as i am, and it felt nice seeing them as a daunting tower, rendered entirely familiar.

was interviewed on NPR today for Weekend Edition. Leann Hanson asked me what i'm reading, and i answered Dickens' nonfiction (as i say on my new website,, right now The Uncommercial Traveler. as i told her, he would read things in the news that interested him and travel out to those places just to poke his nose around, tell the story, document all the great stuff in life that interested him. as always, his incredible lust for life shines through, his ability to relate and appreciate all manner of (good) people, his inexhaustible wit, and the consummate charm of his perceptions and prose. in today's parlance, it's a little like a blog, and as the world's greatest serial writer ever, Dickens would have been the finest blogger of all time. i'll be typing up some of his quotes on Twitter (, but maybe i'll collect them here soon.

ok, so tired i might collapse. woke up at 2:30 this morning from stress and went straight to work. will write again soon -- and will announce when the NPR piece will air. for now i don't know.

affection to all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

what flies, what dangles

The semester has ended; my students are hacking up their final papers like so many alleycat hairballs; spring is springing along the east coast, causing otherwise insightful people to tell each other how exquisite the palpably obviously exquisite days are; and I have been counting down these days, minutes, and moments of panic, waiting to see if my book sells or if I should roll myself in a rug on the Bowery. (on a sidenote, I take comfort that some years ago I figured out how to keep one’s self alive, food-wise, on $1.17 a week plus a lemon peel – details on request). The waiting game is not good for my psyche, and I haven’t had the focus I’d like to have, thus the infrequency of these posts. My apologies.

That said, no small number of curious life experiences have transpired since last we spoke. In the research for my forthcoming experience-daredevil Nerve column, I Did It for Science, I went to a hypnotist to try to relive the “primal scene” (the origin, says dr. Freud, of much neurosis, of which I have much). I won’t preempt the material I’m going to put in the piece, but I will say that the first question the receptionist asked, when I called and explained my agenda, was, “In this life or a previous one.” Right now, honey, it’s all about this one. If I can get it somewhat down, maybe I’ll go back a few.

A few days after doing the chicken dance in Mesmer’s office, I left early to go to DC to give a seminar en route to joining up with Dave (my best bud from high school) for a weeklong trip out to Carolina’s outer banks. En route, I repeatedly saw one of my favorite things, Truk Nutz , which some years ago I made the mistake of not buying for my brother. Life is full of regrets, not attaching a set to Hillary’s Subaru, not riding the mechanical bull in all my years at Duke, or not buying Foam the 8-lb can of gefilte fish or keeping my ultraskanky moustache for Jeremy’s bachelor weekend. Alas.

Dave had never seen the nutz, so I was happy to share my cultural expertise. And then we arrived at the beach house, tastefully appointed with a zebra-print sunken bar, redundant microwave, 4 dishwashers, and a screening room with leather armchairs, cup holders, and the complete 35 dvd “one-and-a-half-star collection” (“Hey, anyone for Hitch or National Treasure II?). I know I’ve been ranting ceaselessly about vulgar expenditure, but this house might take the Devil’s food. (I will confess to enjoying the pool table, however, and my game actually seems to be developing).

I also managed to save a fading dragonfly. It was indoors, clearly being undone by the d├ęcor and about to expire, so weakened that I was able to grab it by its body (thorax?) and take it outside, where, when released, it flew off happily, despite the lack of zebra-print. Maybe this will increase my multiple-decade dream of coming back as a dragonfly in a future life. Why that, you ask? Among animalia, they’re the most nimble fliers, and oft they do it one mounted on another. What better existence?

So I guess I’m not just focusing on this life, try as I may. Clearly I need to be back in Ms. Inimitables’ arms, where the here and now seems especially there and then, flightlessness notwithstanding.

Till next time, my lovelies.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

the everything in anything

i often tell my students that, as Andrew Marvell expressed so nicely in his poem "on a drop of dew," the everything is contained in the anything. i also try to tell them that traveling is delightful in that it forces novelty and alterity on us, but one can find the infinite without ever leaving home -- if we look carefully enough.

that said, they might well rejoin that it's easier for me, for i do live in chinatown, after all. a trip to the market that my bro and i call the arcade (for it passes between mott to elizabeth streets just above hester) is an argument against flying anywhere for difference, revealing such culinary curios as pig uterus, pork bung (apparently foreskin -- or so i'm told), and this beauty, taken with my camera phone in a quick fly-by.
i sent it to bro, phil, andrew, and ron (all experts at the placing in the mouth of all and sundry), and there was various speculation as to whether this creature was dredged from the Mesozoic, the Pacific deeps, the isle of Komodo, or Loch Ness. all speculation welcome; i'll provide the answer in an upcoming post.

but the lesson, as always (and even if you live in Normal, Illinois), is to keep your eyes open. the everything teems; allness abounds.

on a personal/biz note, as those of you receiving my tweets and/or facebook updates will know, it looks like Naughty Bits might be relaunching. this is very exciting, and i'm open to suggestions of brand new or coming-down-the-pike books to cover (both fiction and non). i'll be alternating: classic one week, contemporary the next. stay tuned.

putting this up now, for, on bro's advice, going to try to keep posts at fewer than 8500 words. apparently my burmese days got a little taxing for the employed reader; my apologies -- truly.

love to all. xoxo

Friday, May 1, 2009

re-naissance indeed...



I'm back, have been back, have fully reacclimated to the ways of white people, to undercrowding, social order, directional traffic, trash collection, gratuitous appliances, non-organ meats, factory-made whiskey and Blackberrys. My book is done. My teaching job dissolved. My lovelife's solid. And I'm just another blanquito in the crowd. In many ways, it's good to be back; in others, I feel what I'm going to start calling the alienation of familiarity.

Here were some of my observations upon returning home:

New York felt decidedly calm. I could cross the street with no fear of death – even at night (something I had not experienced in some time).

We have too little street food, by a margin of about 9,000 fold. And, please, the hot dog?

White girls are tall.

So-called Green Liberals don't give much thought to the ecology of air travel (and shipping – think imported beer. Buy local cans!).

Snow sucks, as do shoes (after 6 weeks of sandals only, what a falling off). Escaping winter is magnificent.

Work, at least as the editor-at-large of Nerve and the instructor of Writing for Magazines, is rather nice.

A dhoti is just as useful as advertised, and can even double as a shawl.

My son Lars took a while to reintegrate me; that was sad. But then he did, and I wish I could thank him in a way he'd understand.

Ms. Inimitables is a fount of joy.

The Internet – especially the Google machine – is decidedly pleasant, though one can get used to having no information really quickly.

Running water is decadent and should be appreciated as such.

Hot water is almost criminal.

My three-room apartment is a palace. There are plugs everywhere.

My lightbulb to human ratio is the inverse of everyone's in Laos.

It doesn't make sense to have a place where you work and a place where you live (Dave feels this will eventually change in America)

My brother and Hillary now have three children. They gave terzo my initials: Juliet Katherine Murnighan.

I'm itching to conduct another wedding – or at least to baptize Phil when spring comes.

Somehow this blog revolutionized my relationship with my Dad. And for the first time ever, I know he'll read this.


Now that I can't entertain you with the comestation of insect, arachnid, and rodent, I will have to provide other reasons for your visits; these will include a series of regular blog features, updating often (though selon l'humeur d'ecrivain) and all trademarked, including Life's Delightful Bargains, That Which Shouldn't Be Brooked, The Philosopher in the Kitchen, and Interminable Gratuitous Literary Citation (just kidding … I think). Expect at least one new installment of each every week, and I'll do my best to post on this autofellative thing every day the Muses deign to descend.

I also want to launch a little tie-in promo for my book (due out now May 19th, please review it ye media moguls), namely a kind of opt-in book club where I tell you which classic I'm reading and you read along or just take my word for it. First up will be Dostoevsky's The Idiot; after that probably Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night (if I can stomach it) or Stendahl's Charterhouse of Parma, and then some Mark Twain (I've never read either Tom or Huck, only The Innocents Abroad and that 20 years ago) or Wilde (again but carefully). And an added bonus: if anyone can convince me that Fitzgerald is actually a great writer (not merely good), then I'll let she or he pick one of the next reads. Until then, FSF is officially overrated.

Nice to speak to you all again. As always, i love to hear from you. And if you want to review my book or give me work, my hat's in my hand.