By Hermione Hoby.
If I could, I’d wake up every morning not knowing where I am. I love that lurch, that moment of suspension where the physical world capsizes the dreamed one and you’re capsized along with it for a few seconds. It happened a few days ago. I woke up thinking I was in my teenage bedroom, but there was the window, on the left side, not the right side, and I realised, with a lukewarm feeling of warm relief, cool disappointment, that I was in my 30-year-old’s apartment, in Brooklyn, not Bromley. This doesn’t happen today. Instead, I keep bobbing along in those dream-rich shallows: wake up, roll over, fall back into a dream. Over and over. At one point I hear a bird singing outside our window. Brave little bird, I think. Also: blast-beruffled plume, because a Thomas Hardy poem studied in school sixteen years ago stuck.
When I finally get out of bed and check my phone it’s 9.48. I pick up Michael’s shirt from yesterday, put it on, make matcha and drink a glass of clementine juice while he snoozes. At this point I feel the need to defend the fanciness of the things I’m most likely going to ingest over the next few hours. My defense: his parents were meant to be in town this weekend but postponed, wisely, on account of the death-chill-arctic-tundra-hellfreeze. I took their impending visit, though, as an excuse to go to the Garden, the bouji organic grocery, instead of C-Town, the primary colours supermarket where the teenage check out girls chew gum as though they represented “disdain” catalogued in a dictionary of gesture, and to buy, for example, the juice of a smaller and more adorable citrus fruit in a tall glass, farmers’-market-ready bottle, rather than budget, from-concentrate orange juice in a wide-assed plastic receptacle. Perhaps to present to his parents, and myself, a chicer existence, but perhaps also just because the word “clementine” is so much nicer than the word “orange” and so, its juice tastes better. Euphony. This is the only reason I ever eat kumquats. They’re unpleasant to eat, essentially just a little bullet of bitter peel and fat pips, but the word is so edible that it tricks you into thinking that they, too, are sweet and delicious. I drink the clementine juice standing up in the kitchen and swallow down pre-natal vitamins. I am pre-natal only in the sense of like, five years pre-natal, or possibly permanently pre-natal because let us not count chickens, but I’m told these pills are turbo-charged, so I swallow them every morning, and every morning I try not to meet the eye of the cartoon brunette spreading her manicured hands over her swelling belly on the label. She looks like a chick lit illustration cover from the first few years of this century. Like she should be carrying a load of bags that say “Hermes” and “Chanel”.
I ferry my matcha back to bed and write this on my laptop beside Michael. He grunts and rolls towards me, lodging his head into my armpit and my right arm’s reflexive gesture of embrace means that I then find myself typing very awkwardly and very slowly with my left hand. I wish I were ambidextrous. When I was eleven, I devoted a half term trying to get my left hand functioning and legible. I failed.
Last night’s drinking was the kind where the cumulative non-logic compels you to finish the bottle of triple sec, no mixer, the last alcohol left in the house. Our friend Dave was here and his lovely wife, Vic, is away on work, so I think we found ourselves as benign conspirators in the half-joking, “while the cat’s away” attitude, the bon-vivantism that makes you go from whiskey cocktails to red wine to the lemon-infused vodka your sister gave you for Christmas, on, finally, to the fucking triple sec. It’s kind of pleasing knowing there is no alcohol left in the house though. I like the absolute-ness of it. Absolut vodka and everything else-less-ness.
While Michael sleeps, looking a little like Marat in his bathtub, I finish Personae by Sergio de la Pava, and then start Two Girls Fat and Thin, by Mary Gaitskill. When both are finished they’ll mean I’ve read everything by each author. Tick. Write it down, cross it off. I’m odious in this way. Still a fourteen year old girl giving a Thomas Hardy poem more grave attention than it deserves.
11.02 am, apartment
“I’m going to shower.”
“I’m going to lie here in agony.”
I make him up rehydration salts in a Smart Water bottle, shake it up, give it to him.
I put on Draft, a record, or maybe we can’t even say “record”, because it’s just a collection of tracks posted on Bandcamp by a Los Angeles woman called Cecilia who records under the name $3.33. So it’s not a record in the physical sense but I don’t even know if it’s a record in the usual sense, because maybe she thinks of it as an EP, I don’t know. It’s some of the most beautiful piano music I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe it didn’t get picked up for release. Someone needs to get on it. If you’re someone, reading this, who does that, please do that.
As I’m showering the door swings open abruptly and he comes in with quick apologies. One definition of love: finding the beauty and perfection of the love object utterly undiminished while they take a dump in front of you. I don’t mind the smell of his shit. If I smelt this shit, not knowing it was his shit, would I mind the smell of this shit?
It’s the first time I’ve washed my hair since having my bangs trimmed and it was a really good trim. By the time I direct the hairdryer to the ratty wet strands I have already made peace with the parting of my salon-self and I soberly welcome the re-emergence of my wonky-banged, frizz-fallible self in the mirror.
After the shower I come back to our bedroom and get dressed while he watches from bed. He says the word “perfect” which makes me laugh, because it’s uncharacteristic and sounds like something a man would say to a woman in a film, the morning after. Also, it’s just a risible word. I feel a little mean for laughing. Of course I want to be admired.
He begins scrolling through a New Yorker article on his phone and reads aloud a line and then asks me who Stephen Fry is. I love that he doesn’t know. He also didn’t know who Pitbull and Anna Wintour were. I feel sad that he now knows, that his celebrity innocence has been tarnished.
I tidy in an idle, Saturday morning way. I take a bunch of Valentine’s day flowers from their jar, trim them, rearrange them, rinse them, rehouse them in a smaller jar. Yes it’s a mason jar. #clementinejuice The whole act, of prettyfing this pretty, is incredibly satisfying.
While I’m idly tidying I find the words “CATHERINE RIBEIRO & ALPES – “PAIX””” written in huge letters on a small sheet of paper: last night Michael asked me three times what the music playing was and I remember that at the question’s third iteration Dave, laughing, said that I should write it down. I don’t want to throw this piece of paper away. It will drift around our apartment for a few more weeks, I think, before one of us finally shoves it in the recycling along with collapsed rice noodle boxes and mostly un-read copies of the New York Times.
12.25 pm, apartment
I make a bowl of muesli, greek yogurt and blackberries and drizzle it with tahini-honey. I consider sending a picture of it to my friend Lucy in London: we’re in the sporadic habit of sending each other photos of our breakfasts as a way of collapsing the Atlantic. On this occasion though, I’m too greedy to wait. Plus the berries are bleeding in an unphotogenic way. As I’m eating it at our round wooden table, Michael, in bed, at the opposite end of the apartment (it’s a railroad; for a brief time we called it “the tube”), rolls over in bed towards me. I wave, make a heart sign at him. He waves, falters, mimes sudden death. I go back to my phone and regram an image from @manrepeller of Manhattan from above, ringed with ice. It’s a beautiful picture and as the little orange hearts spring I feel as though I’m cheating. I’m not airborne, but eating muesli at my kitchen table.
I make coffee, queue up Julius Eastman on Grooveshark and sit down to write. By this point the function of the coffee is more Pavlovian than chemical. So is the minimal propulsive piano music. I could have stuck with $3.33 but I had a really good run on Eastman recently and I want that magic again. I finished the novel on the 31st January, or at least, “finished” because since then I’ve given it to Michael and to my agent and realised how much more shit there is to do. Last week my agent asked for a synopsis so she can show the whole thing to her boss. I mentioned that since finishing I’ve realised how unfinished it is and she told me to take my time and resubmit a new manuscript if I like. At which I thought, clangingly, with a kind of internal facepalm, Idiot! – This is publishing, not newspaper journalism! – I must have sounded so ridiculous to her. I’ve yet to adjust to the different rhythms. Last week Michael told me that Helen de Witt refuses all edits after she submits a manuscript. I wonder at how it must feel to deliver it and then, empress-like, declare it inviolably finished and serenely await publication. This is a thing that I know I will absolutely not do. As I start working I realise how much easier it is to write an account of my day than to write fiction. You lucky fuck Knausgaard, I think. Jk, I add.
2.00 pm, leaving the apartment
Our friend Dan has lent us his old white BMW for the weekend. It is an enormous novelty, getting in a car and driving somewhere. The last time I was in a passenger’s seat, Michael at the wheel, was August, when we did a road trip around California and Nevada. I try to summon, imaginatively, the kind of high summer and shimmering Nevadan heat that necessitated, for example, a dark green silk sundress whose hem hits at the upper thigh. I have to stop thinking about it: the mere idea of bare legs is too painful. I’m wearing two pairs of tights beneath a black wool jumpsuit, a black leather moto jacket and an enormous shaggy white fake fur. Also several pairs of socks and a black woollen hat. I bunch and unbunch my toes to try and stop them numbing.
The somewhere we’re driving to is Tash and Rachel’s apartment on Nevins, to pick up a thumb drive containing a theatrical pornographic feature film, directed by and starring the porn star I’m profiling for the Guardian.
It’s snowing in a mean, blizzardy way and the windscreen is basically opaque. So is our breath, in fat white clouds in front of us. As we set off I say, “I really think I should just get the G.” But Michael is in this grim, heroic mode. Very soon into this journey we both realise that driving from Greenpoint to Boerum Hill in a blizzard for some non-urgent pornography is maybe the stupidest idea we’ve ever had. That was the stupidest idea we ever had, Michael will laugh, the next day, but right now it’s primarily terrifying. On the BQE we can barely see a thing. I sit up really tense in my seat, like that’s going to help anything, and manically swab the screen in front of him with balled up black wool gloves, because that does help things, marginally. By the time we park he’s greyish yellow and looks like he’s about to die. This is all completely unnecessary, I could have just taken the G, or got the film later from Tash. I feel guilty and so idiotic.
Tash is in Aztec-y printed leggings and looks lithe and cosy. Her apartment is so warm. She says she’s watching a load of Law and Order and I say something vapid like, this is the kind of day for it. I don’t think I mention our ridiculous snowy death drive (I mean “drive” in the car sense, not Thanatos, but, you know, maybe both, a bit, in this case?). She admires my coat and tells me it looks expensive. I tell her it was twenty dollars in a thrift store and I can’t keep the triumph out my voice. But it’s that particular, deprecatory, British triumph, about the thing being a bargain, the rush to tell the admirer how cheap! it was. She hands me the USB and it’s a tiny matte chrome bar that Michael later pronounces “sexy”. We hug, she shows me out and I head to a bodega on the corner to buy two bottles of ginger beer for him. He’s walking towards me as I emerge and I exclaim “how did you know where I was!” A definition of love: the mystery of the love object radar.
Somehow, we make it home without anyone dying or vomiting.
3.10 pm, home
We survive. It already seems funny. Well, a bit – let’s not rush it. I install Michael on the sofa with water and Excedrin and I hurriedly eat some rosemary crackers and parmesan, standing up in the kitchen. Parmesan because veganism, along with meditation, seems to go out the window at the weekend. Hurriedly, because I want to see the On Kawara show before Ben’s book party.
I kiss Michael on the forehead, the universal gesture for “feel better” and he asks me to tell Ben he’s really sorry. His show-up-for-friends personal code is so unswerving that I know he must be feeling outrageously bad. I glance back through the door as I’m closing it; he waves and I put my hand to my heart in this gesture we have that’s both sincerely loving and mocking of its own corniness.
During the three blocks to the Greenpoint Ave subway I realise that my footwear, in this context, can only be described as stupid. White, plasticky lace up shoes that possibly aren’t waterproof and certainly aren’t warm. On India Street an old woman emerges from her house with a container of grit for her stoop. “Snowing again!” she says and I make a noise of assent. “But it’s warm out!” she adds and I make a more doubtful noise of assent.
Mary Gaitskill and I take the G to Court Square, the 7 to Grand Central and the 4/5/6th to 86th. Except we don’t because I fuck up, dozily overshooting on the 7 to Times Square and it feels so clown-kazoo-abject, to get off, cross the platform, and wait for the train to take me back the way I came. I keep my eyes on ground level, on the look out for other people wearing mere shoes, rather than sturdy snowboots, as though evidence of other people’s idiocy might mitigate my own. With the surprise of phone signal at Times Square and I text Michael “how are you bearing up my babe?” There’s no reply and I hope he’s asleep, not dead.
4pm, The Guggenheim
There’s a blizzard but it’s the Guggenheim and it’s Saturday, so there are still crowds. I emailed yesterday to be put on a press list and I find it miraculous that it worked. The guy at the information desk just hands over a ticket, boom, and I feel almost dazed with the swift ease of it. I didn’t even have to show him ID. In the bathroom I take off my snow-damp fake fur and stuff it in my bag. After peeing and washing my hands I stick my forehead under the hand dryer in a vain – both senses – attempt to keep my bangs looking representative of a person who is more sane than insane. Michael tells me I should just let my hair be more cray, the way it is in the mornings when I open my eyes at him and he tells me I look like Bonnie Raitt. Maybe Bonnie Raitt’s time will come, but for now I adhere to blow-dried bangs and a loose side braid.
In among all the milling people I look at the white-on-white words on the curve of the wall – “ON KAWARA – SILENCE” and I wish it were. Silent, I mean. The problem of art galleries, places which allow lots of people to see art, is that there are always lots of people seeing art. I begin walking up the spiral, which I always find both emetic and sublime. I begin walking past date paintings and think, the better the art, the more misanthropic it makes me. I hope I don’t see anyone I know. We just made an On Kawara style electronic save-the-date for our wedding. I still don’t know if that was kind of cool or massively gauche.
The box for “Jan. 1, 1970” is lined with the front page of that day’s New York Times and it’s unbelievable and absurd to me how little the layout has changed in forty five years. Still the jaunty “All The News That’s Fit to Print” in a box at the top left corner.
I walk past the birthday of an ex for whom I feel an uncomplicated fondness. I walk past my brother’s birthday. I walk past Michael’s parents’ wedding anniversary. I walk past the birthday of an ex for whom I feel a complicated dread. I’m slowly spiralling upwards, through this catalogued and objective past, dates following dates made on those dates they announce, while this uncatalogued, amorphous personal past of days and people and their varied emotional valencies trail through me in clouds.
There are two date paintings for Mar 6.! Why? They sit on top of each other, shocking and uncanny as identical twins. And again for March 30th! What were you doing, Kawara? I could find out, I suppose, but I prefer not to know.
The last time I was here was for a Dior party with Stephanie. She was in a white Dior dress, demure at the front, laced and racey at the back and her nails were glossy black and I felt at peace with being the dumpy sidekick. I walk past the spot from where I watched Caroline Polachek, from Chairlift, sing Rachmaninoff acapella. I remember realising that night how hard it was to tell pretty people apart. Iterations and iterations of unyielding symmetry make prosopognosiacs out of all us proles.
I look at “Kandinsky before Abstraction” and confirm that I preferred Kandinsky after abstraction. I keep steadily spiralling up.
At the very top, I always think there should be some kind of event. Instead it just stops. There’s just a mother and her sweet young son – he looks about ten – taking a selfie together. A swaggering female guard moves towards them. I think she might actually have her thumbs hooked in her belt, like John Wayne. She bellows: “This is the second time I told you guys: no photos.” I am on their side, of course, but I can’t catch their eye to give them a smile.
Michael texts back, “Lobotomize me.”
5.09, Guggenheim café
I’ve spiralled back down to Level 3 and its cafe for a soy latte. The snowy trees of Central Park are so pretty. Too pretty to take a picture. And the dense white behind them, I realise, is the lake, iced over, snowed over.
An ugly red Prada satchel is occupying the one stool at the windows not sat on by a human. I ask its human companion whether anyone’s sitting there. She mouths “yeah” in a way that seems excessively smug and nasty. I realise maybe it’s not the high quality of the art work that’s driving my misanthropy, but the low sugar of my blood. I wonder if there will be food at Ben’s book launch. I check Instagram for clues. He’s just posted a picture of an ice bucket crammed with wine bottles in a very lovely-looking, booklined apartment but right now I’m so much more interested in hummus than Pino Grigio.
People along the curve of the window are holding up their oblongs, finger and thumb, finger and thumb, four corners, to the snowy trees and I feel a kind of disdain for them. Then I notice a woman who looks exactly like Nora Ephron two tables away and everything in me lifts and softens when I catch a snatch of her soft Scottish brogue. I mentally exempt her from my pan-cafe hatred. Not you Nora. I hate everyone in here but you. I text Michael, “I’m taking pleasure in hating all of humanity except you right now.” He needn’t know that he’s joined in this echelon by a woman who looks but does not sound like Nora Ephron.
I want to be at home with him, cooking something that begins with onions.
5.27, the lobby of a fancy building on East 89th street.
The doorman, a young white guy, actually says the words “very good” when I answer the question, or rather the polite-curt command of “your name please.” Very good. My name is very good.
Inside, Ben looks as though he just stepped off a yacht and is exuding this really lovely kind of shy pride. He’s wearing a salmon-colored blazer, a blue and white striped t shirt and I can tell he feels both good and self-conscious in it. Monica looks fantastic but all I can retain of her ensemble is a fluffy white cropped jacket and some pink Hello Kitty socks. Both of them have that amazing quality of seeming quietly and semi-privately amused without ever seeming smug. It’s so endearing. Sasha’s behind the bar and he serves me a seltzer with great aplomb, tonging in the lime and everything. I meet a woman and when I tell her my name her eyes widen and she says, “oh my god no way!” Then, quickly, she says, “I bet you get people saying, ‘like Harry Potter!’ all the time.”
(I do not. Instead, every time, every, single, fucking, time, the person says, “I bet you get people saying, ‘like Harry Potter!’ all the time.”)
I say something really lame about trying to pretend I’ve never heard of Harry Potter and I feel my energy make the noise of a glissandoing trombone, descending octaves.
Zhanna and George arrive and I gain an octave or two. It’s so good to see them. I tell Zhanna she looks regal. She’s wearing a gold, chunky, chain link necklace. “This,” she says in her Russian accent, giving the jewellry a shake, “this is hurting my bone” and she rubs her sore decolletage and laughs. I talk to Matvei about my porn star and worry I’m becoming a porn bore. Zhanna tells me about her sci-fi feminism screenplay idea and it sounds rad but I’m feeling such waves of tiredness and wobbly malaise that I worry she’ll think I’m insincere. Michael texts, “I love you. How’s everything. Fomo. Headache.” I’m in the hallway now, among all the piled up coats and as I begin texting him back Wayne Koestenbaum arrives, in a black and white checkered blazer, green patches in his hair. I love his work. I’ve seen him read and loved him. I would love to meet him but I feel so lame that I know I can’t this evening and that I have to go, right now, immediately, before my own not-talking-to-Wayne-Koestenbaum becomes a private agony. As I’m putting on my jacket Matvei admires it and says, “what is that, a wolf? A husky?” I say: “It’s a fake something!” and wish I’d just said, preferably in an accent like Zhannah’s, “It is wolf.”
As I leave, I make a mental note to now and forever interpret the question, “so what are you working on right now” in practical, rather than literal terms. As in, to hear it for what it is: “what is it that you would like to talk to me about, right now, right here?” and to choose wisely. I wish I hadn’t talked about porn so much.
On my way to the subway I pass a short man with a deerstalker cap pulled down over his face. He nods and smiles and says “hi” in a familiar way and I smile vaguely, reflexively and it’s only when I’m several paces past him that I realise, I think, that it’s Joe O’Neill. I consider emailing Rivka something like, “I think I just walked past Joe without recognising him until it was too late – if so, sorry to him for blanking him!” but I don’t because it seems silly and excessive and… English. Why do I have such a horror of seeming English.
Lately, I’ve been looking at my phone for the time and finding it the same minutes as the hour past the hour. As in 3.03. 12.12. and now, 8.08 (and heartbreak, Kanye adds, in my head). It keeps happening. And every time it happens I have this silly little superstitious shiver, like I have a useless superpower, or the universe does, or we both do, and we’re communing about it. I worry that my susceptibility to astral bullshit is growing.
When I come through the door Michael is still on the sofa, in the dark, a duvet burrito. It breaks my heart a bit and I think I might launch a heart-cry of “babe!” out into the darkness. I turn on a light, the gentle one, and take off my fake-wolf. “How was your day?” he mumbles, rallying, and I tell him that he can read thousands of words about it soon. He’s confused. I remind him I’m doing this today.
I’m so happy to be home with him it’s stupid.
I make a kale and avocado and red radish sprouts and tempeh bacon salad which sounds like some unconscionable Gwyneth Paltrow shit but is exactly what I want to eat right now. We both eat it incredibly fast and he seems a bit restored. Then I eat a slice of the chocolate apricot tart from last night. Dave earnestly (I think?) told me it was the best dessert he’d ever had and I felt proud in such a ridiculously outmoded, housewifely way. Like I was about to untie my pinny and demurely zhoojsh my hair with a prim moue of satisfaction on my face.
I ask Michael if he wants to watch my porn star’s film and yes of course he does. “You are so noble,” I tell him, deadpan, “to sacrifice your Saturday night to assist me in my work research like this.” He just smiles a small smile: his migraine isn’t much diminished. We remark on how all the women are fully bushed and all the men pubeless and I wonder if this is a directorial decision. “I’ll ask her,” I say.
soon after 10 pm.
Hermione Hoby is a writer living in New York City. She tweets and Instagrams @hermionehoby.