Above Us the Milky Way
Three years ago I heard the beginning of what is this book, while images of the paintings and photographs that would illuminate it were projected above Fowzia Karimi as she read, and for weeks I was compelled to pick up the book and continue the story—only at the time there was no book to pick up and indeed not even the manuscript finished. You can imagine my relief that this glorious object of a book was published in April. My new favorite thing is friends posting pictures when they receive their copies, then texting me with updates as they are astonished all the way through.
Balloon Request Live
So, I recently witnessed "Leonardo's Vitruvian Man but with Leonardo the ninja turtle and the circle as a mushroom pizza" executed as a balloon sculpture. Also, an axolotl wearing a sombrero, the Alice in Wonderland caterpillar holding a pair of scissors, a functioning pinball machine, a chimera eventually dubbed "Pegro the Everything Bear," and "A ficus moves in to Oscar the Grouch's trash can and Oscar is surprised but ultimately okay with the company." This thrice weekly culmination of balloon artistry, improv athleticism, unexpected erudition, pop culture arcana—and a lively pun-filled chat stream—has been the most consistent source of joy in my life for weeks.
There are ways in which sheltering in place reminds me of writing residencies: you keep to yourself, take a lot of long walks, and cook without access to all your usual ingredients. Last summer while I was editing in Skagaströnd, podcasts were also a key component, chief among them The Kitchen Sisters' series The Keepers which contains "stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors, and historians." Certainly, you could start anywhere, but may I recommend Nancy Pearl—Librarian Action Figure (episode 119), Emily Dickinson's Hidden Kitchen (104), or The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel (92)?
Read to an Artist
My enterprising seven-year-old niece has instituted a barter: if you call to read her a story, she’ll draw you a picture. The reader may even request the specifics of their commission. She calls it Read to an Artist. I asked for a family of giraffes. By time she was done, they were a family of giraffes eating acacia leaf spaghetti. “You know, like Lady and the Tramp,” she said. Then, per her request, I drew her “chickens or bunnies or chickens and bunnies.” She read me the first four chapters of Sarah, Plain and Tall.
The Believer has been organizing zine workshops and asking cartoonists to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes me think of a graduate student in my short story class who, back in August or September, was making the kind of comics that caused me to ask if what he really needed was a simple book structure. I demonstrated in less than thirty seconds. Every week for the rest of the semester he slipped one of these single-sheet eight-panel comic books in the stack of assignments being turned in. For 2020 that’s ramped up to a comic-a-day practice. Lately, my student reports it functions a quarantine journal as much as anything. A good structure can support all sorts of things. And on May 19, it can support the Dallas Artist Relief Fund
Poet/novelist Sabrina Orah Mark's Happily column for The Paris Review plumbs the rich territory of fairy tales and motherhood in essays that are fittingly dark and lyric and beautiful and strange. This latest conjurs the plague doctor to great effect, and has led to the shorthand among my acquaintance, “Bats bats bats.”
Penguins on Camera
Here I mean at the emperor penguins who kicked over a camera left by their rookery and framed their investigation of the lens exquisitely. And I also mean the Chicago museum Twitter rivalry that meant when the Shedd Aquarium let its penguins wander the exhibits, the Field Museum responded by letting their T. rex mascot into a hall of bird specimens to wave at the penguins.