"Follow your obsessions," a writer said, or probably many writers have said. And for a few months now I have been obsessed with mushroom houses. I'm not high. I don't eat that many mushrooms, magic or otherwise.

I think it started when I discovered, via a now-forgetten series of random links, the photography of "Mister Mushroom." This guy photographs bright colored miniature sets staged with figurines--Moomin Valley, Totoro, gnomes, mushrooms, and other fanciful flora and fauna. His whimsy returned me to childhood and my once sincere belief in gnomes, thanks to a gullible mind, indulgent grandma, and the encyclopedic book "Gnomes." I'd curled up for hours as if it were the Bible. Replete with maps, statistics, tales of encounter, and detailed drawings, the book read like a nonfiction for this seven year old. (I watched the "Smurfs" in those days too, who of course reside in mushroom houses.)

I wouldn't mind being a child again for a moment, believing that if I opened the door to one of these houses, I could step in...



A quick update: I'm excited to share that the new season of readings at NYU will launch on January 31 with the beloved Lorrie Moore. I can't believe I'm going on five years coordinating these readings, while surrounded by all of these remarkable people. (I never imagined, as a kid raised in the cornfields of Ohio...)
    Did I say remarkable? Strike that, I meant fabulous. Check out this photo essay of a day in the life of professor and writer Darin Strauss. I wonder if his talent and photogenic quality will just sort of ... rub off on me? Sink in via osmosis? 
    Speaking of talent, I've recently hired Bianca Stone to illustrate my first book cover. That process is in early stages, and as we know, anything can happen--but it's not too early to laud her gorgeous illustration for Ana Bozicevic's book.  
     A fun and nervy part of working on a first book is asking  for blurbs. "I read the whole thing" would be fine (takers? Mom?). I want to ask my dream blurb-er, Li-Young Lee, who is teaching at this year's Kundiman Retreat. (What? He's what, where?) I remember clutching a copy of "Rose" at his reading in San Francisco, circa 1994. Years later, I drove him around in a mini van when he read at University of Maryland. 
    Do writers remember their groupies van drivers? 
    Finally, I want to congratulate my coworkers for their new writing projects unveiled this week. Adam Soldofsky is the author of pamphlet #49 published by Greying Ghost Press, and Zachary Sussman launched his website The Verbose Vine, which compiles his prolific work as a wine writer. Happy reading! 



St. Anthony, patron saint of lost souls.
He was that guy. The weird guy on the second floor of my apartment building. In his 50s or 60s, hard to tell, bent over, his arms always held oddly a few inches away from his body, like a pigeon about to take flight. Shuffling the hallway in dirty sweats, socks, flip-flops. I’d pass him on my way down five flights of stairs.  He’d be sitting on the stairs, drinking beer out of a round Tupperware container, smoking a cigarette. Damn, I’d think, and call the landlord, indignant. More “No Smoking” signs were hung, up high out of the reach of graffiti and angry pens. But no matter, every few days the smell of smoke wafted up the stairwell. I'd tell myself it was the price of having a rent-stabilized studio. I'd try to remember all of the great things about my place, my neighborhood. I soon stopped calling the landlord as annoyance faded into pity. 

Over the two-and-half years I've been living in my building, I started hearing rumors about the guy. He’d lived there for 33 years, enabled by rent control and a disability check. Once, he’d harassed a gay man who had lived in the building, leaving threatening Post-it notes on his front door. I decided upon a simple, yet self-protective modus operandi whenever I saw him: I said hi, half-smiled, and scurried away. 

We exchanged few words, and always random: once, he was reading a thick novel while he sat in usual his spot on the stairs, the Tupperware of beer close by. He looked up at me and said, “Did you know surgery was invented in the war? That’s right, on the field they had to learn how to operate on wounded soldiers.” “Really?” I said, “that makes sense.” Another time, I had my dog as well as my neighbor’s dog in tow. “They multiplied,” he said, expressionless. “Um, yeah!” I’d say, in that forced-cheerful tone, “Have a good one!” 

A few months ago, he posted in the lobby a meticulously hand-written list of items for sale. It went something like this:
            4 UNICYCLES good cond.
            1 TRUMPET
            1 OBOE
            2 CLARINETS
            3 RECORD PLAYERS
5 TEN SPEED BICYCLES need repair
Later, when someone—probably the cleaning crew--had taken it down, he reposted the list, with a note added on top: IF YOU TOUCH THIS YOU DESERVE TO DIE PIECE OF SHIT HAVE SOME RESPECT FOR PROPERTY ITS U.S. of A LAW CODE 11.89123.1. 

More recently, a few Dilbert cartoon clippings from 1994 were pasted to the elevator wall next to the buttons. I thought it might be his doing, though I can't be sure. It was as if someone was communicating in code. 

This past Tuesday, a neighbor I'm friendly with called me at work. The guy had died inside his apartment. No one had known he was missing until people noticed an awful smell. Tuesday morning, police and firemen and EMTs flooded our building. He had been dead for three, four days. ODd on heroin. The fellow who lives below him, a kid in his 20s, said blood seeped through the ceiling, for reasons no one's yet confirmed. The photo on his cell phone is out of a horror movie, red dripping down a wall. He was the first to call the super. Some neighbors hadn't known the dead man's name. A few folks who’ve been in the building for decades said he’d once been a teacher, accomplished jazz musician, a decent guy. One warm-hearted woman from my floor said he’d been trying to redeem himself in the past year, was funny and kind to her 4-year-old. Someone else said, maybe now he’s in a better place. 

His name was Mike.