Notes from the End of a World

Each night in 2020 I wrote a short post because I wanted to etch these strange days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changed completely.

January 1, 2020

Cathedral

Now begins the season of Arvo Pärt, of private hymns and trees that look like old gentlemen.

January 2, 2020

Ash

“The bottom line is we’re all prisoners of the universe.” This becomes the coda for Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White, where a dangerous romance downshifts into existential longing.

January 3, 2020

Bookends

I try to imagine what I would have thought if someone had described the decade to come while we watched Obama wave from his motorcade.

January 4, 2020

Silence

Today I came across the phrase “algo-seance scene” and realized I’m losing track of not only the future but the present.

January 5, 2020

Information

I try to see the world through my father’s eyes, his sense that everything looked like science fiction.

January 6, 2020

Consolation

I wonder what the effect will be in the long run, bearing witness to so much handwritten pain. “First let this be consolation,” she says. “Then let it be courage.”

January 7, 2020

Nostalgia

I remember believing the world would make sense when I grew older. But it never did and it probably won’t.

January 8, 2020

Intoxicated

For years I’ve nursed elaborate fantasies of living in a remote cabin or better yet a double-wide in the Mojave desert. But would isolation make me more sensible?

January 9, 2020

Screens

I want to commune with nature but I do not know how. Some lizard-brained part of me wants to pull out my telephone and look for new headlines, new information.

January 10, 2020

Crying

The tears of things. If I squint at this phrase a certain way, I catch a glimpse of how I might better relate to grief.

January 11, 2020

Climate

The town’s priest also apologized for the warm weather. “This new climate is beyond me,” he said.

January 12, 2020

Sermon

I went to a 700-year-old church on Sunday morning and the service was purely tonal because I don’t understand Finnish. It was the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard.

January 13, 2020

Cabin

I stared at the empty cabins along the shore, half-wondering if I was still dreaming about my father.

January 14, 2020

Scale

I came across moments in the forest that felt ceremonial, the ancient rites of geology operating at scales beyond my comprehension.

January 15, 2020

Retreat

This season is defined by muted Bergman films projected on the wall in the hour of the wolf.

January 16, 2020

Solitude

It seems perverse that a deeper sense of community would come from living someplace remote rather than among the crowds of the city.

January 17, 2020

Station

The idea cohered on the train somewhere between Turku and Helsinki: take a photograph and write at least three sentences every day.

January 18, 2020

Return

Alone in Helsinki. The sky is pure gloom with rain that hangs in the air, refusing to fall.

January 19, 2020

Wonder

Looking at the sky tonight, I think about Origen of Alexandria, the philosopher who believed the stars were rational creatures and the sun could sing.

January 20, 2020

Past

Whenever I come across Goethe’s maxim that architecture is frozen music, Helsinki is what I see.

January 21, 2020

Self

I was shaken by Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits at the Finnish National Gallery.

January 22, 2020

Ravintola

I remember smoking a cigarette in the subzero wind while watching the lights of freighters on the horizon. I thought we were at the edge of the earth.

January 23, 2020

Air

I prefer flying at night, cocooned in a netherworld beyond space and time, no longer aware of hovering above the earth at thirty-thousand feet.

January 24, 2020

Future

People sweep through the galleries, looking at the paintings only through the screens of their phones. Taking pictures is how we see the present moment.

January 25, 2020

Turbulence

The turbulence began the moment we entered American airspace. It was hard not to read this as an omen.

January 26, 2020

Rotation

We talked about not staying in New York. We talked about finding a way back to Helsinki and we discussed moving to Taipei.

January 27, 2020

Hidden

I closed the book and watched everyone on the subway swiping and scrolling, hunting for something. Or escaping.

January 28, 2020

Glitch

The mathematical precision of these birds looked improbable. Maybe it was a sign of some cosmic change, a hidden pattern made visible.

January 29, 2020

Light

Finding lightness becomes the job. And if it cannot be found, it must be invented.

January 30, 2020

Static

These are destabilizing days when there always seems to be a screen playing something upsetting in the room.

January 31, 2020

Flame

Long-simmering anxiety has a new focal point, a new excuse for indulging in much darker fears. Borders are being closed.

February 1, 2020

Desert

No wonder so many religions began in the desert. The raptures and visions of the ancients were the most rational response to so much sky.

February 2, 2020

Birthday

I wonder if deep down each of carries a fantasy of one day becoming an ascetic or a mystic, some hardwired notion of stripping our lives bare and praying in the gloom.

February 3, 2020

Seeing

Walking down street tonight, I find myself paying closer attention to shadow and light, reminding myself that yes, this is plenty.

February 4, 2020

Change

New York’s skyline stopped me in my tracks this afternoon, reminding me that I live in an increasingly alien city.

February 5, 2020

Boot

My eighty-year-old German neighbor and I picked at our omelettes while a television in the corner of the diner delivered the vote count.

February 6, 2020

Twilight

‘Civil twilight’ is an elegant term for the moment just before the sun sinks beneath the horizon. It might be a fitting name for these strange years.

February 7, 2020

Decision

I scroll down the aisles of the office supply store, soothed by the racks of folders, binders, and containers that promise an organized and efficient life.

February 8, 2020

Badlands

Strange how I’m embarrassed to write our president’s name, a name that looks like an obscenity on the page. Maybe it’s because I thought we deserved a worthy villain.

February 9, 2020

Clutter

I catch a glimpse of a beloved actor from the 1980s smiling across three flatscreens in an empty lobby, encouraging everyone to triple reverse-mortgage their homes.

February 10, 2020

Powerball

The only noise tonight is the highway and it sounds like the sea.

February 11, 2020

Dreams

Waking up this morning, the world doesn’t feel much different from the illogic of sleep.

February 12, 2020

Stranger

Nearly every advertisement on the subway trumpets the virtue of having your favorite meals, outfits, entertainments, mattresses, and toothbrushes delivered straight to your door.

February 13, 2020

Ghost

The first gods must have been born while we slept.

February 14, 2020

Future

A vaguely human-shaped slab of bronze staggers into a ferocious wind, its body on fire, determined to walk.

February 15, 2020

Blue

Why are so many visions of the future cast in cool tones? Blues and greys, whites and silvers.

February 16, 2020

Lake

The 45th parallel is the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole, and you can feel the geography shift when you see all that big pine and cold water.

February 17, 2020

Eye

Sharks have a transparent membrane that allows them to see despite the blood and carnage that fills the water when it attacks.

February 18, 2020

Love

I remember sitting in a cathedral on a snowy February morning and watching an elderly couple hold hands.

February 19, 2020

Event

Debate night in America. We tune in because we need to know: Who can withstand the punishment of live television?

February 20, 2020

Perfect

A man studies yesterday’s horoscopes on the train. He carefully highlights a line that says today is the day to take action.

February 21, 2020

Bow

Billboards along Interstate 90 tell me that God owes us nothing, love is an action verb, and the key to forgiveness was hung on the cross.

February 22, 2020

Pattern

The machine says tens of millions of people will flood into Las Vegas as well as Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Houston.

February 23, 2020

Virus

She scrolls through websites that sell protective face masks while I half-watch a conspiratorial documentary about our hyper-mediated world.

February 24, 2020

Salmiakki

Meanwhile the television says things like “jawbone damage may occur” and “America’s most trusted home surveillance system.”

February 25, 2020

Jabs

Instructional videos at the train station teach me how to behave in 2020. If there’s gunfire, take cover. Silence your cellphone.

February 26, 2020

Cross

Ash Wednesday and people walk the streets with smudged crosses on their foreheads. A beautiful ritual, ancient and haunted.

February 27, 2020

Scribble

A consultant from Brussels asked everyone to draw the shape of their lives on a Post-It note. I made a scribble and people began approaching me as if I’d scrawled a cry for help.

February 28, 2020

Crash

A woman was visibly upset in aisle six because they’re out of antibacterial hand-wipes. “But when will there be more?” I’m still thinking about the look in her eyes.

February 29, 2020

Leap

“The beginnings of Dada were not art but disgust,” said Tristan Tzara in 1918. Each day the rationale for Dada’s rejection of logic makes a little more sense. But cynicism is a cheap dodge, isn’t it?

March 1, 2020

Hills

These are days of hand sanitizing lotion and being told to sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head while washing your hands.

March 2, 2020

Golden

Tonight I crave the cadence of the desert. Groom Lake. Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range. Devil’s Hole. Epic names that speak of salvation and redemption.

March 3, 2020

Tuesday

Another chapter in this endless season of passive-aggressive battles in hotel lobbies and gyms, their flatscreens cycling between Fox News and CNN.

March 4, 2020

Lamp

One of the finest things I own is a lamp with a stern brass pirate, one hand on his hip and the other gripping a long sword.

March 5, 2020

Sanitizer

We wash our hands constantly like we’ve done something wrong. We try not to touch our faces.

March 6, 2020

Fortune

Once again, the question that haunts me when I approach any kind of altar: Am I allowed to pray before you if I don’t understand you?

March 7, 2020

Armory

The brittle energy of coronavirus anxiety commingled with ritualized decadence. Face masks and champagne stations.

March 8, 2020

Country

Went to an exhibition about the countryside that felt like walking into a Wikipedia entry written under the influence of heavy-duty stimulants.

March 9, 2020

Pantheon

The house of all the gods.

March 10, 2020

Denial

A note on Barnett Newman’s portrait of “the agony that is single, constant, unrelenting, willed—world without end.”

March 11, 2020

Spike

Meanwhile in New York City, we’re told the subway is safe although we should avoid taking it.

March 12, 2020

Storm

The streets hum with a hunter-gather energy that brings to mind the days before a hurricane. Except there is no storm, only the prospect of staying indoors.

March 13, 2020

Control

I’m beginning to understand the street preachers and late night radio voices who root through arcane numerology and biblical verses that implicate Wall Street, Hollywood, and the United Nations.

March 14, 2020

Communion

I needed to work with my hands today. To be reminded that I can make something that takes up space and serves a need.

March 15, 2020

Distance

I run through Central Park, passing joggers with balaclavas and kerchiefs wrapped around their faces like they’ve been throwing Molotov cocktails.

March 16, 2020

Vigilance

Riffling through an old box of keepsakes, I came across a note that I wrote to her five years ago.

March 17, 2020

Suspension

These are long days of suspension. For a moment I convince myself that everything is just fine. That I must have imagined the whole thing.

March 18, 2020

Quiet

There was a time when I would count how many words I said each day. At night I logged the number into a notebook. Sixteen. Twenty-three.

March 19, 2020

Hothouse

Tonight I sympathize with Will Durant’s wistful sketch of Rousseau: “He escaped from the stings of reality into a hothouse world of dreams.”

March 20, 2020

Artificial

There’s a blush of dopamine, an uncoiling of the nerves: the smudged memory of doing arts and crafts in a classroom while a storm beats against the windows.

March 21, 2020

Anger

Once this is over and we’re allowed to gather outside again, I hope we take to the streets for all kinds of reasons.

March 22, 2020

Blank

I spent the morning scrolling through images of empty highways and blank parking lots that look like a new form of land art or maybe a message to the gods.

March 23, 2020

Night

This is dedicated to the nighthawks and graveyard shifters, you beautiful enemies of sleep.

March 24, 2020

Six

A deeper hush fills the city, a sense of bracing for an unseen blow. We know things will get worse.

March 25, 2020

Kneel

I hear the undoing of a lock and her voice calling behind me. “Thank you, darling. Pray for me.”

March 26, 2020

Point

The optics feel wrong, more like a simulation than reality; it’s eerie to see New Yorkers so evenly spaced apart.

March 27, 2020

Mojo

Every night the Electrifying Mojo would sign off with the same message and I want us to hear it in our heads now, delivered in a slow baritone with a grin around the edges.

March 28, 2020

Conspiracy

Each headline is more disorienting than the last, and these pandemic days are breeding baroque conspiracies.

March 29, 2020

Grid

Meanwhile, I’m reverting to the diet of a five-year-old. All I want to eat are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

March 30, 2020

Cheer

There’s the guy I’ve always wondered about, the one across the street who leaves big chunks of bread on the fire escape for the pigeons.

March 31, 2020

Shake

Don’t shake out your dirty laundry, the television says. You might release a viral cloud.

April 1, 2020

Passing

Passing each other on the sidewalk, we hold our breaths like children in a graveyard.

April 2, 2020

Doubt

Now they’re saying the virus spreads by talking and breathing. We can kill each other just by being a person.

April 3, 2020

Prediction

I thought I’d devote my energies to becoming pure and benedictine, brand new and all-seeing. Instead I scroll and refresh.

April 4, 2020

Sound

Sirens and cheers, these are the sounds that shape our days.

April 5, 2020

Park

We wear bandanas and scarves across our mouths like a haphazard gang or makeshift religion.

April 6, 2020

Lung

Dig the old lady who cut a tiny hole into her surgical mask so she can keep smoking her Benson & Hedges.

April 7, 2020

Space

And so much space there’s nothing to think about except something resembling god.

April 8, 2020

Sensible

These days I walk to the market like I’m about to commit a poorly-planned crime.

April 9, 2020

Senseless

Last night I dreamt about a god who was angry because the noise of humanity prevented him from sleeping.

April 10, 2020

Stars

It seems like a tragedy to go through life not knowing the names of the lights overhead.

April 11, 2020

Escape

Consider the word “ecstasy” in its strict sense, a Greek word that describes standing outside of one’s body.

April 12, 2020

Object

This season of suspension will forever tint the thoughts of all who survive it. Bright-line moments from recent memory cannot compare.

April 13, 2020

Window

I stood at the window and watched raindrops slide down the glass like I was six years old again.

April 14, 2020

Neon

I remember walking through corridors of jumbled neon and thinking this was the poetry of the nation: the grammar of dead casinos.

April 15, 2020

Wednesday

Time blurs. Every day feels like it’s either Monday or Saturday.

April 16, 2020

Slow

Maybe I could become a Zen lesson in the art of presence, but it feels more like I have the attention span of a goldfish: understanding the world only nine seconds at a time.

April 17, 2020

Mouth

I can’t stop staring at this photograph. I study the woman’s mouth, teeth bared and jaw dropped, probably wrapped around a word like tyranny or freedom.

April 18, 2020

Reverb

I thought I’d dreamt about standing before my bookcase and picking up a copy of The Plague by Camus.

April 19, 2020

Interference

I find myself frequently returning to a century-old line from The Surrealist Manifesto: “Let yourself be carried along. Events will not tolerate your interference.”

April 20, 2020

Fugue

My eyes stutter and loop through the words before me because my attention span has been chewed up by the news.

April 21, 2020

Glacier

I remember the sound of white thunder, that bone-shuddering crack as another piece of a glacier fell into the sea.

April 22, 2020

Flowers

There should be a clinical term for the sensation of wanting to look at my phone while looking at my phone.

April 23, 2020

Ruins

Flipping through an old notebook last night, I came across a page dedicated to the first time I saw a painting by Hubert Robert.

April 24, 2020

Drain

Sometimes there’s poetry in anger, and I saw it scrawled across the street this afternoon.

April 25, 2020

Avalanche

Strange how something you’ve heard a thousand times can suddenly knock you over.

April 26, 2020

Glum

Maybe I should work on my resume. Instead, I press on with reading The Plague, dropping the book every few pages to marvel at its resonance.

April 27, 2020

Diner

Tonight I miss sitting in diners and listening to people murmur and jive, scraping their forks and stirring their coffee.

April 28, 2020

Smile

The smile is the expression that can be seen from farthest away.

April 29, 2020

Compound

Night walk to the corner bodega and I nearly forgot to wear my bandana.

April 30, 2020

Outline

I’m beginning to understand why so many novels and television shows are set in the past.

May 1, 2020

Headlights

You can never see further than your headlights—an old slice of trucker philosophy that makes more sense with each passing year.

May 2, 2020

Saturday

I wonder if I’ll ever get accustomed to the uneasy combination of sunshine and masks, as if we’re afraid of a perfect spring day.

May 3, 2020

Scold

There are advertisements on street corners and bus stops for events that will never occur.

May 4, 2020

Coherence

My grandmother was tradition personified, a west side Polish Catholic who served Saturday night dinners of kielbasa and fried smelt.

May 5, 2020

Options

People keep talking about a return to “normal,” as if there’s such a thing.

May 6, 2020

Horizon

It’s becoming a nightly habit: scrolling through desert scenery while fantasizing about horizons, speed, and possibilities.

May 7, 2020

Mystery

“Everything’s a mystery and I’m just another small part of it,” said a woman at a gas station in Barstow.

May 8, 2020

Opera

“I will create a world from the past,” she said, and she painted an audience on the walls and danced for them every Saturday night.

May 9, 2020

Season

Time feels like an increasingly fictional concept as these weeks and months bleed into one very long day.

May 10, 2020

Seeds

I find solace in these instructions from Epictetus: do not say something is lost, only that it is returned.

May 11, 2020

Next

The triggers for fear are largely universal: loud noises, fast-moving objects, and the sudden loss of orientation. The loss of orientation has been sudden this year.

May 12, 2020

Scramble

Someone down the hall has been practicing “New York, New York” on their piano for the past hour.

May 13, 2020

Remember

I’m writing these things down tonight because I want to look back in a few months and see if any of these dire predictions came true.

May 14, 2020

Mono

An otherworldly landscape of alkaline and soda towers surrounded flat waters without a single ripple.

May 15, 2020

Grass

We spent a few hours in the park because it’s almost possible to forget this pandemic while hiding in the grass beneath a tree.

May 16, 2020

Symbols

We might remember crouching on the sidewalk, frantically trying to gather the teeth falling from our mouths—not the circumstances that led us there.

May 17, 2020

Genre

The Chinese takeout spots along First Avenue have pulled up their metal shutters. The florist is open.

May 18, 2020

Weird

Maybe we’ll have a vaccine soon. Maybe the president will poison himself. Things can go either way these days.

May 19, 2020

Dark

I remember watching the darkness in my bedroom when I was small, hypnotized by grey-pink flecks while I waited for sleep.

May 20, 2020

Cracks

I write and work. I step outside and look at the sky. Sometimes I go for an ugly run. I make phone calls. I tend this journal. Repeat.

May 21, 2020

Babble

Each morning I wake to the imaginary babble of fully-formed news reports and television clips while skating across sleep.

May 22, 2020

Time

Time is a concept. Time is a flat circle. Clocks only measure other clocks.

May 23, 2020

Recursion

Thinking about the blurry line between media consumption and my soul.

May 24, 2020

Bell

Riffling through my small box of family memories, I came across a note written in an unfamiliar hand.

May 25, 2020

Memorial

After sixteen hours of talk radio, interstate winds, and screaming into metal boxes for food, my grip on the world grew slippery.

May 26, 2020

Market

I’m fantasizing about a sprawling network of night markets and bazaars that reclaim the streets and devour the cars.

May 27, 2020

Accretion

The amount of incense smoke that darkens a temple’s ceiling demonstrates the popularity of that particular god.

May 28, 2020

Haze

When I flipped on the news around midnight, my concerns about running, writing, teaching, and everything else felt stupid and indulgent.

May 29, 2020

Pain

A man stood before the crowd of reporters, his eyes filled with pain and conviction.

May 30, 2020

Dissonance

The presence of the police introduces the prospect of violence like a promise, and that promise came true by nightfall.

May 31, 2020

Vacant

The White House went dark tonight in response to the protests across the street and spreading throughout the nation.

June 1, 2020

Desecration

A news anchor said, “We are descending into something that is not the United States of America tonight.” I’m not sure if this is true.

June 2, 2020

Curfew

I say hello to an old man with a power drill and a bucket of screws. Everything’s coming so fast and ugly this year.

June 3, 2020

Alert

The silence was stunning. It had presence and weight that nearly muted the birds and the steady beat of three choppers in the sky.

June 4, 2020

Oblivious

My interest in triangulating art, faith, and the day’s events feels increasingly toothless, maybe even oblivious.

June 5, 2020

Presence

Tonight I came across Tolstoy’s three questions, and they feel especially pressing in these overloaded and disorienting days.

June 6, 2020

Paranoia

Men with amplifiers delivered gnostic interpretations of the facial expressions of various health officials.

June 7, 2020

Hope

We’re still living through a season that requires the suspension of disbelief, but perhaps it’s possible to believe we’re heading somewhere better.

June 8, 2020

Mortichnia

Sometimes you come across a phrase that haunts you all day. A few words scraped from last night’s dream, maybe an odd line in the news.

June 9, 2020

Otherwhere

This morning I was pacing our flat, searching for something I could not find. She told me it was probably “otherwhere.”

June 10, 2020

Trampoline

And I’m trying to conjure the faith of those fiery manifestos when they believed a particular font, grid system, or color scheme might solve everything.

June 11, 2020

Saints

Tonight I’m going to play Funkadelic on repeat, dim the lights, make bad coffee, and write some purple prose.

June 12, 2020

Liability

It’s a strange kind of whiplash, living in a society that’s somehow becoming more sensitive and cruel at the same time.

June 13, 2020

Texture

This morning I came across a stray photograph from my mother’s things, and something about it looks like a scene from a dream.

June 14, 2020

Need

Sometimes my mind lands on a jittery thought: screens have become our reality and the physical world simply exists to serve their needs.

June 15, 2020

Wolf

They call it the hour of the wolf, and I think it’s reassuring there’s a name for this time, that others feel it too.

June 16, 2020

Reconciliation

I want to square my life with these instructions from Thich Nhat Hanh: “Vow to work for reconciliation by the most silent and unpretentious mean possible.”

June 17, 2020

Tactile

And I’m reminded that I think better without the screen tugging at my thoughts like a magnet.

June 18, 2020

Convulsion

More than ever, surrealism might be the best strategy for surviving these days.

June 19, 2020

Midnight

I scrolled through streets named after Hank Williams and Big Mama Thornton while the radio worried about leftists and alien abductions.

June 20, 2020

Solstice

People are edgy, their dreams infected with anxiety if they can sleep at all.

June 21, 2020

Radioland

During commercial breaks, I sang along to radio jingles for machines that control your brainwaves while you sleep.

June 22, 2020

Phase

She made a comment about her life that seems like a solid piece of wisdom for dealing with any kind of history: “I need to look back, but I don’t need to stare.”

June 23, 2020

Routine

For years I would reach for my telephone the moment I woke up, groping for it with a junkie sense of need.

June 24, 2020

Sand

They’re calling it the Gorilla Dust Cloud, and you can see it from outer space.

June 25, 2020

Grace

As I listened to a woman talk to the pigeons, I began humming that Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.

June 26, 2020

Invasion

Aliens could land in America and we would politicize them until they became just another round of ammo in our endless red versus blue battle.

June 27, 2020

Rhythm

And there’s the sound of someone in the street laughing and saying, “How did we get like this?”

June 28, 2020

Humid

We had a pleasant June for a while, but the long mean heat of summer is finally here. Beyond this, I’m losing the plot.

June 29, 2020

Belief

Last night I woke in the middle of the night and wondered if it’s possible to believe in something otherworldly in 2020.

June 30, 2020

Shadow

Sometimes I find comfort in a two-thousand-year-old myth about a Chinese emperor.

July 1, 2020

Abandon

Maybe I should go live in a tree. Learn the phases of the moon and teach myself to cook with the sun.

July 2, 2020

Spasm

Tonight I sat in front of a fan while premature firecrackers echoed through the streets. I wondered how to live in a nation that’s circling the drain.

July 3, 2020

Toll

Sometimes I dream about tollbooth operators, the half-glimpsed faces with cigarettes on their lips, their left hands forever clutching a quarter and a dime in change.

July 4, 2020

Independence

A degraded and muffled Fourth of July. The prospect of celebrating America these days feels like a dark joke.

July 5, 2020

Forgetting

It was remarkable, this sudden act of forgetting as if we’d left the past four months behind.

July 6, 2020

Vivid

A world without the color green. A man who repainted all the seashells on the beach.

July 7, 2020

Nature

We contemplated where waterfalls came from and wondered how saltwater becomes freshwater and vice versa.

July 8, 2020

Sleepless

You can almost taste it, that bright metallic sensation which floods the brain when it decides there will be no sleep tonight.

July 9, 2020

Embers

Maybe it’s an ancestral memory of bearing witness through the night while tending to the flames.

July 10, 2020

Rain

There’s something oddly soothing about the sound of traffic peeling down wet streets on a rainy night.

July 11, 2020

Fiction

Lately I’ve been torn between the possibilities of fiction versus my compulsion to record each day’s events in this nightly journal.

July 12, 2020

Empty

Ten years later, I still remember the sight of a young couple marching along an empty desert road in Nevada.

July 13, 2020

Breakup

Nobody died from the pandemic in New York City the other day.

July 14, 2020

Remembrance

There’s a strange dynamic to this nightly journal, this sensation of writing against time. Or more precisely: writing for myself in the future.

July 15, 2020

Spear

And what is my intuition telling me? My first thought is to turn down the volume on the world so I can hear.

July 16, 2020

Soul

These medieval Catholics were haunted men who desperately wrestled with the question of a soul, not like the playful Greeks who made up the world as they went along.

July 17, 2020

Anchors

Rode the subway home in an empty car except for me and an old woman wearing a t-shirt that said, “Love is so gangster.”

July 18, 2020

Run

They say you never see a cheetah stretch, but maybe I should. My legs always hurt.

July 19, 2020

Echo

Tonight I’m craving the kerchunk of a rewind button and the ritual of scotch-taping the edge of a cassette

July 20, 2020

Cover

Finishing a project means closing doors, killing darlings, and foreclosing possibilities.

July 21, 2020

Detach

I remember speeding across a blank Oklahoma plain dotted with pump jacks and cattle pens.

July 22, 2020

Downpour

And for a lunatic moment I wonder if it will keep raining until everything is washed clean.

July 23, 2020

Way

It doesn’t matter if the nail is in the exact right place, so long as it’s holding together two pieces of wood.

July 24, 2020

Clay

The Stand brought me back to teenage nights of staying awake into the small hours with a flashlight, promising myself just one more chapter.

July 25, 2020

Feedback

It’s two-thirty in the morning, and a caravan of motorcycles and dune buggies are growling up First Avenue, their engines rattling the windows.

July 26, 2020

Wave

The seven o’clock cheers faded long ago.

July 27, 2020

Inspiration

A list of things that inspired the book I’m writing.

July 28, 2020

Demon

Today’s headlines featured phrases about “demon sperm” and “the umbrella man” because we’ve slipped into a psychedelic hell.

July 29, 2020

Pray

When I consider the man I want to become someday, I often picture myself as someone who prays.

July 30, 2020

Ready

“You can put on a jacket,” she says, “but you can’t take off your skin.”

July 31, 2020

Cigarette

There was a half-moon in the sky and a large man in a red pick-up truck was talking to somebody on the phone about Jesus.

August 1, 2020

Max

“You’re looking at the future: people translated as data.” This line from Max Headroom certainly holds up thirty-five years later.

August 2, 2020

Normal

Giving up on normal seems like a critical psychic adjustment these days.

August 3, 2020

Moon

I should understand the rhythm of the moon by now.

August 4, 2020

Debris

Maybe human brains aren’t equipped for this, absorbing painful images from everywhere at once without the ability to be present and act.

August 5, 2020

Decay

Lately my dreams have been all garble and grime without symbolism or plot.

August 6, 2020

Pack

We’re packing for a trip of indeterminate length.

August 7, 2020

Road

I still remember the frantic voice of a late-night caller who said, “We can’t get the blood out of our eyes fast enough to see what’s coming next.”

August 8, 2020

Cave

Americans of all kinds gathered together to admire their country’s geological features. All is not lost.

August 9, 2020

Logs

The cabin smells like cedar. There is no internet here. No cellphone reception either.

August 10, 2020

Bullet

Three days without television or constant internet access—unless I drive twenty minutes to sit in the parking lot of a Speedway gas station.

August 11, 2020

Puzzle

It’s an exhausting puzzle, trying to figure out which parts of this world to let into your head.

August 12, 2020

Desk

By now I should know the only way to outrun my bullshit is to keep writing.

August 13, 2020

Lot

An old man pushes a shopping car filled with metal scrap and hollers about demons.

August 14, 2020

Buzz

We’ve entered the last stretch of summer when everything is overripe and so green it feels obscene.

August 15, 2020

Tornado

Maybe it was the barometer dropping, the rearrangement of air pressure.

August 16, 2020

Grind

The body remembers slowly and forgets very quickly.

August 17, 2020

Convention

Somewhere north of Columbus, we tuned in to the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

August 18, 2020

Jeremiad

A woman at the supermarket kept making a noise I could not decipher.

August 19, 2020

Signs

Somewhere in southeastern Ohio, I drove past two ranch houses sitting side by side with tidy sidewalks and neatly mowed lawns.

August 20, 2020

Machine

An empathy machine sounds like a pretty good leader right now.

August 21, 2020

Sunset

Heading west on Interstate 70, there’s a beautiful sunset and it’ll have to do for tonight.

August 22, 2020

Scan

For a glimpse into the brainpan of America, you can’t beat late-night AM radio.

August 23, 2020

Pegasus

First memories are such peculiar creatures, these fuzzy impressions and garbled snapshots that teach us how to see the world.

August 24, 2020

Observance

Tonight I sat outside in the unfamiliar terrain of southeastern Ohio, lit a candle, and watched the stars.

August 25, 2020

Untethered

Then the First Lady stood in the Rose Garden and lectured us about civility while her husband smirked.

August 26, 2020

Weather

I switch the channel and a meteorologist says, “Just behind this vortex is a wall of water getting ready to surge.”

August 27, 2020

Stimuli

He said, “The president recognizes the best way to restore normalcy to people’s lives is to bring back entertainment options.”

August 28, 2020

Monochrome

I wonder if there’s anything to learn from my recent drift towards color and my desire to return to monochrome.

August 29, 2020

Channel

To erase the “I” and stand outside of time, writing like a ghost.

August 30, 2020

Burn

I’m chilled by how quickly phrases like “the other side” have become so natural. Because that’s the grammar of war.

August 31, 2020

Loose

It’s always good for me to be reminded that writing is a physical act.

September 1, 2020

Hex

Demons and hexes would nicely explain why some people behave the way they do.

September 2, 2020

Swerve

Perhaps the best work scrambles genre and rides strange lines that might swerve at any moment.

September 3, 2020

Radioactive

As I scrolled through the radio dial in search of voices to keep me company, I began to understand the appeal of its doomsday preachers and fear-merchants.

September 4, 2020

Howl

This election will test much cruelty Americans will tolerate, and how many of us crave it.

September 5, 2020

Beauty

“Beauty is remembering the sad times without crying,” said one girl, who at fifteen years old was already so wise it broke my heart.

September 6, 2020

Kindling

There’s that principle that we burn up all available time to complete a task—and this gets scary when measured in years.

September 7, 2020

Thunder

Why is the sound of thunder so soothing?

September 8, 2020

Pearl

They walked around caked in mud with lice in their hair, which they called the “pearls of god.”

September 9, 2020

Smoke

I’d always thought the future was just around the corner, but it’s already here.

September 10, 2020

Deer

I’m not sure if I believe in symbols or signs, but today gave me plenty to decipher.

September 11, 2020

Nineteen

Nineteen years ago but it still feels like it was just the other day.

September 12, 2020

Superstore

My breath catches in the existential and super-saturated detergent aisle: All. Era. Gain. Cheer. Bold.

September 13, 2020

Water

This has been a year of references to plague novels and the dystopian skies of science fiction.

September 14, 2020

Falling

Sometimes I fall asleep thinking about the ancient atomists.

September 15, 2020

Simple

Like painting legs on a snake. My in-laws taught me this Chinese idiom, a scold against unnecessary embellishment.

September 16, 2020

Encounter

The deer didn’t seem alarmed by my presence. It just watched me while munching some foliage.

September 17, 2020

Behalf

Five thousand years ago we began outsourcing prayer and devotion to statues that would worship on our behalf.

September 18, 2020

Process

Looking at the state of the world today, perhaps we need more architectural details designed to scare away demons.

September 19, 2020

Spectrum

There’s a problem with modern grief, a rupture that cannot be filled with squishy words like mindfulness and acceptance.

September 20, 2020

Closer

Last bonfire before we return to the city.

September 21, 2020

Plaza

A modern marvel where you can eat fast food on top of eight lanes of freeway traffic.

September 22, 2020

Equinox

We’re standing on the verge of an uneasy fall, unsure of just how high the curve will go.

September 23, 2020

Shatter

Three moments in America today that reach beyond my ability with words, striking only the rudimentary language of grief.

September 24, 2020

Birds

Standing in a superstore parking lot this evening, I watched some geese fly south, and I remembered my parents’ relationship with birds.

September 25, 2020

Homeward

We’re leaving the Ohioan wilderness behind, night-driving back to New York.

September 26, 2020

Lull

But tonight there’s light rain, our windows are open to the city’s hum, and there’s something dark and slow on the radio.

September 27, 2020

Converge

It’s my mind that kills me, the constant looking at my watch until I remember how to forget about time.

September 28, 2020

Dots

If I’ve gleaned anything from keeping this glum journal throughout this year, it’s that I keep returning to the language of grief.

September 29, 2020

Shame

Tonight’s first presidential debate was a fitting spectacle for a degraded nation.

September 30, 2020

Training

“You’ll be working at least seventeen hours on Election Day,” he said. “So bring a sandwich.”

October 1, 2020

Ritual

A mixture of marble and steel that looks like a collision of the past and future.

October 2, 2020

Positive

Today the president went to the hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus.

October 3, 2020

Oldies

I find myself craving the days when a 303 sounded like it contained all the mysteries and possibilities of the world.

October 4, 2020

Extreme

This year has made conspiracy theorists of so many of us to some degree.

October 5, 2020

Dust

As if I’m doing something wrong just by living in such an embarrassing time.

October 6, 2020

Kite

I once saw an old woman in a red sundress flying a big yellow kite down a busy street.

October 7, 2020

Creature

The fly felt like a portentous symbol in a year that has reached the caliber of myth.

October 8, 2020

Landfall

Lately I’ve been having a dream about a weatherman grinning in front of a map while talking about a hurricane of bullets.

October 9, 2020

Silentium

And I realized this was because of that rarest quality of all these days: silence.

October 10, 2020

Spare

When you cut something down to the bone, every decision becomes much more dramatic.

October 11, 2020

Drome

More and more, it feels like trying to critique the sky.

October 12, 2020

Pictures

While running through the rainy dark, someone stepped in front of me and took my picture for no apparent reason.

October 13, 2020

Slate

A place where only the occasional shredded tire or dilapidated cabin would interrupt my fantasy that I’m driving on another planet.

October 14, 2020

Simulation

He stood in front of an airplane flapping his hands and crowing before a sea of red hats. All those red hats like angry sores.

October 15, 2020

Watching

Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Are you still watching?” but “Why?”

October 16, 2020

Noise

I miss being around sounds I can’t control.

October 17, 2020

Monument

I’m always captivated by Louise Nevelson’s monuments built from pieces of furniture painted black.

October 18, 2020

Fatigue

What is the line between fatigue and acceptance?

October 19, 2020

Monsters

Why would my brain invent monsters to terrify itself?

October 20, 2020

Landscape

I’m endlessly rewriting, forever shuffling scenes and squinting at the possibilities.

October 21, 2020

Fog

We admired the smudged headlights of oncoming traffic, the fleeting sense of driving on some other, better planet.

October 22, 2020

Ocean

So we listened to the sea, and it gave us much better information.

October 23, 2020

Lights

Returning to the city, I felt a familiar drain on my attention as I drove down the FDR to ditch the rental car.

October 24, 2020

Up

Eighty-five thousand new cases reported yesterday, another record smashed in a year with too many records broken.

October 25, 2020

Safe

A friend sent me an article about a helmet you can buy that creates its own microclimate of filtered, customized air.

October 26, 2020

Court

I will channel my anger into becoming a morning person this week.

October 27, 2020

History

It’s an uneasy sensation, knowing something massively historical is one week away.

October 28, 2020

Mirror

It looks like half the country is burning and the other half is freezing.

October 29, 2020

Wind

“Sometimes I think they are graceful like ballerinas,” he said as we drove. “Other times, I think they are wicked.”

October 30, 2020

Devil

My first understanding of how media hysteria works, the way it creates a dark scoreboard with a record begging to be broken.

October 31, 2020

Halloween

America hit nearly 100,000 new infections yesterday. Britain declared another lockdown tonight, joining Germany and France.

November 1, 2020

Hour

The end of Daylight Savings Time is my favorite holiday because it creates more night.

November 2, 2020

Gesture

I was mortified by just how childish I’d become, that I would allow any man to crank my lizard-brain into full swing.

November 3, 2020

Election

After so many months of isolation, working the polls for seventeen hours reminded me of something important: New Yorkers are beautiful and insane.

November 4, 2020

Razor

A slow-motion drift in Pennsylvania. Refresh. A lot of places are sold out of nicotine gum.

November 5, 2020

Goo

Patchy sleep and fever dreams of narrow margins and outstanding ballots. But it’s not much different from waking life right now.

November 6, 2020

Endless

Meanwhile, we wait for a signal, a 72-point headline or a glossy cable news graphic that cements and formalizes.

November 7, 2020

Catharsis

The networks called the race for president at 11:26 this morning, and the city erupted in cheers.

November 8, 2020

Shift

Yes, I wept as Kamala Harris and Joe Biden gave their acceptance speeches in a Delaware parking lot.

November 9, 2020

Test

Shops are removing the plywood boards from their windows after barricading for riots that never came.

November 10, 2020

Spirit

In the beginning, God was only “a permanently existing ghost.”

November 11, 2020

Suffuse

Words that haunt the unconscious: Trilobites, moonfish, and gorgons.

November 12, 2020

Profane

How many times have I glimpsed a better, more spiritualized way to live—and retreated?

November 13, 2020

Lament

We knew it was coming. They’ve been telling us for months, and now it’s here.

November 14, 2020

Reality

A profane old man would often tell me, “Fuck your feelings.” Then he’d remind me of the facts. That advice probably saved my life.

November 15, 2020

Astro

Or take the word ‘disaster’, the inversion of ‘astro’, a term which means a negative star, a kink in the heavens that leads to catastrophe.

November 16, 2020

Museum

I wanted to visit my favorite statues and paintings before things begin closing again.

November 17, 2020

Hijack

Meanwhile, I keep forgetting the screen is a tool, not an environment.

November 18, 2020

Forward

I don’t want to become a prematurely old man, pining for a romanticized past.

November 19, 2020

Post

I found a rare picture of my mom young and smiling, caught beneath the overheated gloss of a 1970s photo.

November 20, 2020

Walk

I often hear people say they feel as if reality is slipping away. But perhaps reality is becoming more evident.

November 21, 2020

Image

I read about a temple where an image is treated as the living incarnation of an infant god.

November 22, 2020

Stretch

We stopped at a rest area where a man stood on the grass, grinning at the moon.

November 23, 2020

Patterns

There was a time when people believed the stomach’s gurgles and rumbles belonged to the voices of the dead.

November 24, 2020

Shop

I tuned into the voice looping over the P.A. system, struck by how it sounded simultaneously rational and insane.

November 25, 2020

Ash

I miss the dopamine loop, the carrot and the stick, and the rhythm of stepping outside for five minutes after each page or paragraph.

November 26, 2020

Gratitude

Tonight I am grateful because I have a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and the freedom to make my own decisions.

November 27, 2020

Access

Sometimes I blame modern-day aesthetics for my difficulties. The optics seem wrong for devotion.

November 28, 2020

Tree

Domestic rituals of all kinds will be critical during this long winter.

November 29, 2020

Leave

The holidays remind me that I don’t have the type of family that appears in commercials and television specials.

November 30, 2020

Bear

Light snow here in Ohio, and the weather report was mixed with grim coronavirus forecasts.

December 1, 2020

Snow

The first day of the last month of this nightly exercise, and I’m thinking about the value of this exercise.

December 2, 2020

Language

How tragic to enter a museum hoping to feel dignified and ennobled, only to walk away feeling like a fool.

December 3, 2020

Eat

I stopped at the window and gaped like a hermit suddenly confronted by society.

December 4, 2020

Pietà

The image of the Pietà occupies such a distinct place in memory that I often forget it translates to “the pity”.

December 5, 2020

Metal

If aliens landed, I’d probably mistake them for a guerrilla marketing campaign.

December 6, 2020

Release

I’m learning to carry my dead with me, to ask them questions while pacing the kitchen or driving to the supermarket.

December 7, 2020

Absence

I catch myself patting down my pockets while feeling phantom vibrations, seeking synthetic communion.

December 8, 2020

Alright

I passed a church sign that said, “Jesus paid the price, you keep the change.”

December 9, 2020

Stare

His gaze leaves me questioning my life choices and entire personality.

December 10, 2020

Worship

Three years ago on a Saturday night in rural Pennsylvania, I saw a vision of the future that I cannot shake.

December 11, 2020

Numbers

Three thousand Americans are dying each day from the coronavirus, and two hundred thousand more are infected.

December 12, 2020

Narrows

I feel more present in the world at midnight, most like myself.

December 13, 2020

Vaccine

They gathered in Washington DC to wave flags with the president dressed up like Rambo, slicked with sweat and carrying a belt-fed weapon.

December 14, 2020

Mundane

I’m reappreciating the joy of mundane events this year, the delight in everything happening as expected.

December 15, 2020

Reflection

There were days when our images were honored, even feared.

December 16, 2020

Flurries

Maybe it has to do with the silence it brings, how it tranquilizes the world for a while.

December 17, 2020

Death

An elderly man collapsed against the base of a Bernini.

December 18, 2020

Fracture

“But I’m working on a special microchip that will block the signals of all demons and devils,” he said.

December 19, 2020

Programming

I absorbed so many forms of 1980s sitcom trauma.

December 20, 2020

Postmortem

How would knowing that consciousness lingers while the body goes cold change the way we reckon with death—or bear witness?

December 21, 2020

Hibernal

Heavy rain beats against the windows and it’s the longest night of the year, one of my favorite moments.

December 22, 2020

Stimulus

A billionaire was on television this morning, and he’s worried about our social fabric.

December 23, 2020

Banquet

My memories tend to pile up around the holidays, fogging my thoughts with the textures of Christmas seasons from the past.

December 24, 2020

Eve

My first concept of god came from It’s a Wonderful Life.

December 25, 2020

Moment

Remember this, I thought, because it won’t always be this way.

December 26, 2020

Shambles

A pair of ears clutches a knife. A pig dressed as a nun encourages a man to sign a legal document. And so on.

December 27, 2020

Fallout

But for three or four minutes, something otherworldly seemed possible.

December 28, 2020

Version

There will be no flash of light or burning bush.

December 29, 2020

Unthinkable

I try to imagine my reaction if someone showed me some scenes from the year to come.

December 30, 2020

Almost

It’s almost like a new form of weather, this atmosphere of everyone waiting for this wretched year to end.

December 31, 2020

End

The end of the year leaves me feeling as if I’m supposed to be reflective; I find myself hunting for revelations that never arrive.