On the work of Kate Atkinson

On the work of Kate Atkinson

When I was fourteen, I bought a copy of “Human Croquet” after reading about it in a magazine for girls (unexpected choice by the editor, I’ve come to realize). I had the original receipt for a while and jotted down the exact time, down to the minute, and place where the book was purchased.

I came back to that inscription in my senior year at Duke, when I was writing my (let’s face it, terrible) honors thesis on “Human Croquet.”

“Acquired at 7:33 p.m., May 17, 1998, Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Charlotte, NC.”

There wasn’t much I understood at twenty, but I did understand why I wrote down the contents of the receipt. I was recording a life-changing moment. I met Michael Cunningham once when he came to give a talk at Duke, and he jovially discussed having his life upended by Virginia Woolf, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I wasn’t weird. Kate Atkinson just happened to split my particular atom.

Her work has changed over the years, gone both wide and deep, but some familiar themes have circled back this year: the handsome RAF pilot, the complete disaster of men and women, the cruel and lovely ambivalence of nature, the question of death and stepping sideways out of time, the tedium of children and how there’s nothing more important, Englishness (and how observing it changes it), the strange way men separate passion and love (like unspooling threads), the importance of getting on with it even when you’d rather lie down and melt back into the landscape again, lying down and melting into the landscape at a later date (though perhaps having helped someone in a way, so as to not have your existence be entirely without point), the fact that we are all so fragile as to almost be fiction.  Continue reading “On the work of Kate Atkinson”


I miss carbohydrates
I miss the conviction
That rotten floorboards beneath my feet
Will give in at some later date
When I’ve moved on to greater things
That are owed to me by fate.
I miss kissing him
Outside that restaurant
(See how I’m not addressing him?
It must prove that I am repentant).
I miss saying “no” as easily
As sliding hand into glove;
Come to think of it
I miss my good winter things
And how unlike other phenomena
They could always be counted on.
I miss staring contests with the bottom of the glass
And I equally miss losing them.
I don’t miss pouring my own wine,
But I do miss choosing it.
I miss when rebellion meant
A nothing that came of nothing
As worn beneath my coat
I miss taking for granted
My ability to rain down a bit of destruction
In an insignificant corner
Of an altogether backward
Permanently twilit
Part of the world.
I miss being nobody’s vassal
Unless you counted those pale moth wings
Like the evening’s fluttering eyelids
And I’m sure you didn’t.
I miss split ends cut off by that woman
Split ends like golden forks in the road
Either way beset by trouble
Either way portending love.
I miss not missing my handsome jailer
Feeling for keys on his belt
And saying “it’s over” to my friends
Like an apology
For a terrible screw-up
A disaster so immense
That they had to cancel
Important dinner plans.
While I’m at it, I miss real friends
Those who don’t mind putting a blanket
Over my shoulders and theirs
To go and watch meteorites
Tear through the dark seams of the sky.
“One undone, another undone,
They’ll say it about us someday –
They were lovely as they shone
Why couldn’t they stay.”
And I miss the force per unit area
We had from sitting next to each other
When it felt that should it get a little colder
We could pull down the sky together
Spread it over our touching knees
And I could quit worrying my caged predator teeth
And bite its soft corner.
I miss the men
Who’ll think it’s about them
But not all, not all.
I miss the dog paused on the stair
Gazing into the changing shadows of the hall
Waiting for whatever was next
And whatever was next was nothing at all –
And how lucky that was for us both.
I miss the Carolina spring
Beautiful like a woman in a bar with someone else
Beautiful like only that which cannot be possessed
Leaning against the fence
And describing the sun
To disbelieving gnomes and spiders beneath the leaves
See, I knew I was going to write
I didn’t know there’d be a price like this.
The snow is already busy concealing the footprints
Of boys who won’t return from war
Having hidden behind their broad backs
I have missed them all.

winter thaw kuindzhi
Winter. Thaw. By Arkhip Kuindzhi, 1895.


No, idiots, Belle Knox is not an “embarrassment” to Duke

Ever since the so-called “Duke porn star scandal” hit the headlines, random people have repeatedly asked me if I am “embarrassed” by it as a Duke alumna.


The short answer is: “No.”

The somewhat-longer answer is: “No, are you freaking kidding me/what the hell is wrong with you/are you for real?”

Here are some things, meanwhile, that I AM embarrassed by:  Continue reading “No, idiots, Belle Knox is not an “embarrassment” to Duke”

Et tu, Duke Magazine?

They messaged me asking for my picture, I suggested they take one off my Facebook page. They used a picture of Russian actress Natalya Antonova instead. I mean, I get it, I’m the tired mother-of-a-toddler here, but still! I’m allowed to do cardio again! I’m taking iron supplements! *sob*

Also, apparently I’m the deputy editor and the acting editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. At the same time. Makes so much sense.

But, as Humbert Humbert put it, society columns and the like should contain mistakes. And if Humbert Humbert said it, you know it must be true.

P.S. OK, granted, Natalya Antonova is a brunette in that picture, and I also recently became a brunette. It all makes sense. Somehow. A director also recently mistook me for her online and bitched me out for something random, and then apologized. So Duke Magazine is in good company here.

A preemptive hysterical fit

I have to spend 13 hours on a packed train with a baby very shortly. The baby is in a screamy mood.

I need time and space to finish my book and I do not have these things.

You know what, I wish my jaw would stop hurting. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK, JAW?

I’m tired of fretting as to what kind of a future our son is going to have. I mean, he won’t have a trust fund! What kind of parents are we?!

I’m tired of fighting.

I missed a deadline with a play because I am too tired and because I have writer’s block. My head feels as though it’s made of cotton wads.

I hadn’t noticed Caitlin Flanagan’s sexist, presumptuous article about Karen Owen and Duke last year – I was busy becoming a parent and such – but it has since been pointed out to me. The odd thing about Flanagan is that she would be a really good writer, if she were a little more brave and a little less of a snob. If she didn’t extrapolate her own anxieties unto others, but focused on why she has them in the first place. Still, I’m tired of the fact that people like her launch writing careers after “holding forth” at dinner parties and so on, while the rest of us have to bust our asses. The only reason why I bring this up, of course, is Flanagan’s own sneering contempt for women who must bust their asses.

I’m extremely tired of being told that I am a bad parent by the people who are closest to me. I’m tired of hearing that “the baby is not developing properly” when he’s developing nicely according to every single damn source I have read. So how about you keep your “helpful advice” to yourselves, bastards? Before you take an arrow to the knee, and such.

I miss sleep. I mean real sleep here. Not the fake bullshit that passes for sleep around here.

I’m tired of not having a proper home, one that at least feels like home. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I am not a very fancy person, no matter what rumours you may have heard. I would like a balcony onto some quiet dvor. And think that the real estate bubble in Moscow was and is a crime against humanity.

I’m tired of visas and work-permits and constantly feeling as though I am on the edge of some bureaucratic disaster.

Incidentally, I want to take a sledgehammer to Russian bureaucracy.

I’m tired of uncertainty and really wish my hair would style itself.

Hysterical gif is hysterical: