Quick housekeeping note: many of you are experiencing technical difficulties, apparently owing to the fact that some "premium" subscriptions weren't imported from Substack, and people who (correctly) thought they had already pay-subscribed have now had to re-subscribe via Buttondown. Ideally the amount of time you would spend thinking about whether or not you're paying for my newsletter is ZERO especially if you already made that decision once, so this is all VERY IRKSOME. Everyone has been very polite about it so far and I'm grateful for that. Thank you for bearing with me as we get this straightened out. If you want to get two emails a week from me instead of one, first, thank you, you're a true hero and second: if Buttondown is telling you you already have a subscription when you try to pay, email me (reply to this or firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will get the situation sorted. WHEW.
On Saturday night, Keith and Raffi went uptown for a slumber party with Raffi's cousin and I had the whole apartment to myself!!! Whoops, no I didn't, I have two children. However, Ilya had skipped his afternoon nap, so he passed out at 6pm while watching Frozen. Perfect! I had invited girlfriends over for dinner at 7. We went up to the roof and had a great time, but then when we came downstairs to get dessert Ilya was sitting on the couch in his Ana dress, looking sleepy, confused and aggrieved. He proceeded to hang out with us for the remainder of the dinner party. He then watched "just the starting" of Frozen 2 as I cleaned up, after which he sat in my bed refusing to sleep until just after midnight, which didn't prevent him from waking up around 7:30 Sunday morning. "The sky's awake, so I'm awake!" he said, in the words of his cinematic idol "Ordinary," which is what he calls Ana when she's wearing the green dress. I dragged myself upright and began my day, deeply sorry to have drunk rosé continuously during the interregnum in which I'd thought Ilya was going to sleep 6-6 and also for then having eaten a bag of peanut butter m&ms at 11:30 pm in a fit of chagrin after it became clear that he was not.
We spent 10-1:30 in the playground and after we got home he finally napped. I was in that weird ultra-BLANK headspace: too adrenalized/caffeinated to sleep, but also incapable of doing anything else. When I am that exhausted, my phone seems threatening and repellent. It contains the seeds of obligation, emails and texts and whatsapps that my brain has to lift heavy weights in order to make sense of, much less respond to. However poisonous I find my phone, though, I also cannot stop looking at my phone because what else am I supposed to do, stare into space? Read a book?? LIE STILL AND LISTEN TO MY OWN THOUGHTS? Typically this type of void is filled perfectly by Twitter, which requires exactly as much cognitive energy as I am willing to give it at any given moment. But I'm still off Twitter, and there is only so much Instagram.
Luckily, like you (right??) I subscribe to READ.LOOK.THINK, Jessica Stanley's monthly-ish newsletter that captures articles and curiosities that speak to Jess's unique set of obsessions: perfect, high-toned, intellectually rigorous novels, aristocratically cluttered UK-ish interiors, and ideas that aren't takes. In the middle category, this issue had a House and Garden spread from 1996 about Graydon Carter's then-apartment in the Dakota, which you must ogle. It doesn't inspire envy, exactly -- no one would want their apartment to look like this now, with heavy chintz drapes and WWII-era children's toys and model boats on every shelf. On the other hand, any kind of idiosyncracy is preferable to the millennial aesthetic.
Carter's description of the building's seasonal festivities reminded me of Nora Ephron's essay about the Apthorp. "For the kids, it's a secure place, and they have such fun here," he's quoted as saying. "At Hallowe'en the courtyard is lined with pumpkins kids and prowl around, trick-or-treating Boris Karloff's old place. At Christmas we have carol singers and a big, gorgeous tree. In summer, when the fountain is working, you open the windows in the kitchen and all you hear is trickling water. But I think my favourite time is the winter when, a lot of weekends, we never get out of our pyjamas. You can order in anything locally - world-class Chinese food, all the newspapers, and videos too. Often the whole family never leaves the apartment. Those really are the best weekends of all." Reading this, I am filled with nostalgia. Imagine how nostalgic one would feel about this version of NYC if one had actually inhabited it!
After reading this, I google-imaged all the Carter kids, who were once very kind to me when we were all seated together at the children's table during a dinner at the Waverly Inn when my sibling-in-law was receiving the Christopher Hitchens award. I wish I had known to ask them what it was like growing up in the Dakota in stacked bunk beds. I wonder what their apartments look like (I'm thinking starkly minimalist white cubes.) Then I read this amazing Jennifer Senior profile of Carter from December 2000, which has him holding court, smoking cigs, at Da Silvano -- "Is my smoking bothering you? Are you waving away my smoke?” -- and being harder to pin down for a quote at the VF Oscar party than Gwyneth Paltrow.
The New York of that profile, which was written when magazine editors compelled huge salaries, glamorous perks and newspaper gossip items about their love affairs, is long gone. I did inhabit that pre-digital New York, briefly, and sometimes I feel nostalgic for the little of it I witnessed. Of course, I'm also nostalgic for the version of the future that early-00s me thought I would one day inhabit.
Like me, Graydon Carter is now in the newsletter business. An editor there recently reached out to me to write a 700 word book review for it, for $700. To do this book justice, I'd have to read not only it but several other books, then try to compress that all into five paragraphs or so. W.W.T.B.-A.D.? I turned it down, but not without some regret.
Lulled by these reveries, I managed to catch a 15 minute catnap and woke up refreshed, sort of, and ready to welcome the missing half of my family back to our apartment, which is decorated in a mix of early-2010s Ikea, Transformers toys, sidewalk finds, and large wicker baskets from Target.
One of the most fun things about reviving this newsletter/using it as Twitter-methadone has been reading the responses to last week's missive about what you'd like from this newsletter. One reader thinks I should write a book, Eminent Victorians-style, about some women who interest me. This is probably a great idea, and I can already imagine writing the proposal and also using it to apply for the kind of grants and fellowships you can only get for writing a book that requires research. I am also so exhausted just thinking about it. It reminds me of advice that Elizabeth Wurtzel gave me in the early 2010s, when I was struggling with my first novel and too scarred by the response to my first book to be capable of writing in the first person anymore. She said the idea for Bitch was that she would do a lot of research and then sneakily still write a book about herself (I'm paraphrasing.) Sometimes you need to trick yourself AND a publisher. Anyway, it's a good idea.
Another reader said she wanted "gossip and things to buy," which also sounds good. I haven't bought anything special recently, but I did a quick dip into Trader Joe's this morning on my way home from physical therapy to stock up on their pumpkin spice gf bagels -- fellow celiac sufferers, take note! These are somehow chewy in the way a real bagel is, unlike most other TJ's gf baked goods.
Two other readers wrote in with day-job/gig career leads and those are always welcome!! Another reader said the market for podcast scriptwriters is booming, but I have no idea why he thinks I'd be good at that.
Until next week, unless you are a paid subscriber, in which case expect added emotional intimacy in your inbox later this week.