Bangkok

There are a lot of lemons on the tree in my back yard. But they taste like what a lemon would taste like if lemons went on strike to rally for higher wages and they smell like a hospital. The streets in this town are lousy with flying ants and pregnant cats and orange caterpillars. The man across the road does not roll his own cigarettes anymore.

Dream: I am sitting at a small wooden desk working very hard on a significant problem: how to get all the dogs in China to be quiet. They’ve been making too much noise lately and I haven’t been able to finish my important, groundbreaking work of fiction called “It’s Complicated.” The dogs of China make noise at all hours. It’s important that they stop. In order to silence them, I have kidnapped a dog from Bangkok; it has a nondescript, beige appearance, like a small, stocky whippet. I put it in a box under my desk and start typing.

The programming language that will shush the Chinese dogs forever goes like this:

same dealio if{
bark, moan, whine, howl, woof, yelp, yip, yap}

else

The language is elegant, if incomplete and somewhat campy. The dog from Bangkok begins to frighten me. His demeanor is nothing short of spooky. When I open the cardboard box he will not come out. The only sound he makes is a silent pant.

Kyrgyzstan

Every day my daughter draws a picture of a dog, colors it with markers, and cuts it out, then cuts out a paper leash, a fringed paper pillow, and a paper bed. The dog’s name is Lily. I don’t know what to do with all these paper dogs. They are piling up to the ceiling. She gives them to me when she gets home from school, a time when I have missed her and she has missed me. The dogs remind me of this. All day, she has been somewhere else, finding time to remember me. This is remarkable. It is strange that someone who can’t see me should be thinking about me. It’s as strange as the word “orange.” Because I admire her drawings she makes them every day. Sometimes the dogs have collars, sometimes bows between their ears. Sometimes tongues. The dogs seem tired, but I don’t say so. The dogs started off small, about the size of my hand, but now they are bigger, about the size of a platter. They have brown fur and orange stomachs, which makes them look like robins. Their eyes are very large, and they appear to sparkle because of the way she colors them, with “three white dots, going up.” Someone taught her this, somewhere. I have been in this house for too long.

Dream: I am walking in a meadow between white mountains. The ground is covered with grass that feels like a cheap sponge. I don’t carry anything. I have no supplies and no hat. There are a few people nearby, but there are no planes. I can’t see anyone’s face. I don’t want anything to eat. Part of the land is brown because of so much rain and time. Everything is huge and memorable.

Leningrad

Words and phrases I don’t like

  • With all due respect
  • Buff, in the sense of nudity or fandom
  • Transom
  • Mount
  • Late bloomer
  • Surviving, as a reply to “how are you?”
  • It’s not in my wheelhouse
  • Speculative
  • Maven
  • When we speak about the body
  • Glaze
  • Startup culture
  • Research indicates
  • Unspeakable beauty
  • Presidential
  • Nibbles, except when Cecily Strong says it

Dream: I don’t remember dreams anymore. I wake up every day at 5:58 when the dog barks.

Shanghai

The other night, I ate a meal cooked by people I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I should help them, what they were cooking, or what they were saying, at least part of the time, because they occasionally spoke to each other in Hebrew. At first I thought they were speaking Hebrew to keep something a secret, like their opinions of me or the exact location of their jewelry and valuables, but later, I realized with some excitement that they were saying things like “the eggs are burned” and “our son is annoying, get him out of the kitchen” or “take out the trash” or “did you remember to put my underwear in the dryer.” I too would like to use a language other than English to convey banal questions and instructions to my spouse. The only things I can say so far in Hebrew are “thank you,” “hello / goodbye,” “no,” “girl,” “boy,” “woman,” “man,” “cook,” “read,” “write,” “run,” “swim,” “dog,” “egg,” and “apple.” I don’t know how to say “does this food have meat in it,” or “please,” or “where is the laundromat.” Meanwhile, at the house where I had only just met the people who were cooking for me, my children and their children shot each other with Nerf darts and played with chinchillas, even though they—the children, not the chinchillas—did not share a language. Playing with Nerf guns and the softest animals in the world obviates language.

Dream: I’m sitting on the conveyor belt. It’s moving forward at its maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. The person in front of me announces that he has won an Olympic medal. The strap is visible around his neck. I can’t see what mint the medal is, and if it’s a bronze medal I won’t care, but it may be a gold medal, so I sit up straight with good posture and act like someone who also has a medal. The only thing around my neck is a chain with a car key on it. The key is black and it flips open like a switchblade. I like the way it opens very much. I close it and flip it open with the little silver button, for fun. It can be stored compactly when it’s in my pocket. It can ignite a 2.5-liter engine. These engines are manufactured in the factory in Shanghai where I’m sitting on the rolling conveyor belt. I have the key so that I can do quality control checks on the engines once they have been mounted on a chassis and inserted into a car. The key can turn on any of the engines. It will render most aspects of quality control meaningless, but I am not motivated to make waves or to complete my job in an ethical way. I am only motivated by my paycheck. I press the silver button again and again. The man in front of me turns around and we look at each other. His medal is silver, like the button on my key. I’m relatively impressed.

Israel

I moved to Israel. The hotel where I’m staying ran out of falafel last night. I ate a carrot for dinner, with hummus. I did not go to the dinner buffet. The head waiter, Abed, likes my children, because they are well-behaved. Many of the other children who come to dinner throw spaghetti noodles at the walls and slap their parents. He sends plates of fruit upstairs with us after dinner: pears, yellow oranges, something that looks like a plum. Soon, when we move to a house, I will be able to cook my own food again, if I can remember how. I will not be able to rely on Abed to make sure I have fruit to eat when I am lonely in the middle of the night.

Dream: The first elevator is the size of a master bedroom. It goes from the ground to the sky and back. The second elevator is the size of a dorm room, and rises only half as high as the first before returning to earth. The third elevator is the size of an IKEA elevator; the pattern of ascent and descent continues. The fourth elevator is the size of an elevator. When it stops, I get out and go into the next one; it’s the size of an accessible shower. It feels small. I disembark and push the button to open the next elevator. It’s no bigger than a single shower stall. This elevator ride is dark and upsetting, but it feels good to get out of it. I look for the next elevator. The button is in the shape of a cherry, and it flashes when I push it. The new elevator arrives. It’s the size of a dumbwaiter, and opens like one. Inside, where I will barely fit if I contort my body, it looks cozy and inviting. There is a candle burning in a recessed alcove. It occurs to me that the ride on this dumbwaiter-elevator will be very brief, if the pattern continues, and evidence suggests it will. I bend down and start to climb inside, arms and head first. But someone wakes me up before I can see if I will fit inside the small, romantic elevator, and where it will go, and whether the candle is scented or not, and whether it was the last elevator in the series, or if I would have been offered another elevator the size of a Christmas present.

Jordan

In third grade, a girl hit me in the face with a tetherball and knocked me down. Her name was Vanessa and she had three ponytails. After she and her friends called me a bad word and walked away I stayed where I was, lying on my back and looking up at the sun through the fingers of one hand. The color of the sunlight going through my skin was pretty great. It was the color of ripe papaya flesh, but I didn’t know that yet. It was almost the color of one of my least favorite Crayola colors, Atomic Tangerine. I never liked that crayon because when you draw with it it looks nothing like the wrapper. From where I was, lying on the tetherball court, I could see the kids from first and second grade walking to the cafeteria for lunch. They were sideways and small. They sounded like windup toys. I have never been in a fistfight but I think I would like to be.

Dream: Someone has made me very angry. I go up to him and poke him in the chest, twice, in his ugly blue shirt with its embroidered logo that says “Golfing!” I tell him to get out of here, but we are standing in the middle of nowhere, in a brilliantly hot desert on a hill above a blue sea. If he gets out of here, I will have to watch him walk away to make sure he really leaves. “If you think you can tell me what to do,” I say, but before I have a chance to issue a threat I see him swimming far off in the sea in all his clothes. He is the size of nothing, but I can still see him, no matter how far away he swims. He waves his hands at me and I wave back.

Bavaria

Between Sunday and Wednesday of this week, I wrote nineteen poems. Last week, I wrote six stories. The week before that, I wrote a very long essay. It was weird. To make up for how strange it was—for how irresponsible it seemed—I then made a list of the things I’m writing that have been unfinished for more than a couple of months. I hoped the list would give me a sense of obligation: either finish these things or abandon them completely, but in any case do something with them. I don’t like making lists, but I do like deleting things. It was a big deal.

I learned a lot from my list. The main thing I learned is that in 2012, which was in a real sense the year I started writing seriously, I wrote over 200 things that never made it past the third line or sentence. In 2010 and 2011, I wrote almost 300 poems, and one of them was good. Last year, I cleaned up after myself; there are no drafts, just finished things, that I could do something with now if I wanted to. 2014 was the year of half-built projects. Everything from 2014 is an enthusiastic burst of unbridled intention that stops dead in the middle of a sentence or a line. According to my computer, which has never lied to me, I never modified any of these files or even opened them again.

The thrilling conclusion to this story is that I went ahead and deleted everything I wrote before 2015.

Anyway, here’s a typewriter

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