the right to create your own atmosphere
Recreating childhood joys, eating the sea, and nuclear fusion reactions
If you want to: fulfill your childhood fantasies
What you will need: a glass dome, a Venus flytrap, a grow light, distilled water
Venus flytraps evolved in the Carolina bogs. There’s a booming poaching ring there, which is as dumb as it is sad, because they’re inexpensive and easy multiply legally. You might have noticed. When you were about eight, walking through a nursery or even the grocery store with your mom: there it was, jaws agape. If you convinced someone to purchase one for you, you then might have had the same experience I’ve had for the last few decades. At best, the plant lives for a few months and doesn’t grow any more of the snappy heads.
Only this year did I realize the piece I was missing: a glass dome. After only a few months with this special ingredient, my Venus flytrap has four fully-developed heads, five small ones that have not grown in yet, a seed stalk (which I know I’m supposed to cut off so that the plant can devote its energy towards growth, but if something wants to reproduce, who am I to stop it?).
I’ve written about killing my carnivorous plants. I had the distilled water, I had the grow lights. I even had a humidifier. But these plants demand the right to create their own atmospheres.
Thing I wrote in February
I wrote about plant grow lights. My editor and I had a fun discussion about the line “With the advent of increasingly affordable and high-quality LED plant lights, you can manufacture that sunshine without the nuclear fusion reactions.” He suggested that the “without the nuclear fusion reactions” could be changed to “without incinerating your apartment.” But then I said “I think the nuclear fusion reactions that power the sun would sublimate your apartment, no incineration involved.” Thanks to my pedantry, the original line stayed.
For Neo.Life, I wrote about pooping onto a little piece of paper, scooping some of it into a vial, and sending that vial to a startup. I discovered that my microbiome contains pepper mild mottle virus, which might be why I have spent my life carefully picking bell peppers out of my food. If that sounds interesting to you, click on the link for 2,000 more words.
Thing I liked in February
After I finished The Dawn of Everything, a real banger, I read Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz. These two books were complementary. David Graeber and David Wengrow, the authors of TDOE, specialize(d) in anthropology and archaeology, respectively, whereas Newitz’s background is in journalism. Both books discussed a few of the same cities, like Çatalhöyük and Cahokia, and it was interesting to get the two different takes. Newitz described more of the process of archaeology and what it was like to retrieve stuff from the ground, whereas the Davids are more into sweeping political and social theories. I enjoyed both.
Murderville is funny! It’s a Netflix show where a comedian has to solve a homicide case while improv-ing the whole time. The Ken Jeong episode was my favorite.
In this house, we stan Heather Havrilesky. We pay for her newsletter, we pre-order her new books. I’ve even written her for advice once or twice (Was it published? You’ll never know!) I have a couple standby Ask Polly columns that I read when I need a pick-me-up. Therefore, I gulped up Foreverland and then watched the discourse around it in horror, from the New York Times pan to the View discussion that did not even mention Havrilesky’s name. If you read the book, Bill (her husband) is framed as the co-hero of the story, not always a heap of dirty laundry. Foreverland is about mortality, aging with another person and having to give and receive grace over and over again. I would classify it as another banger.
“Spy” is a funny James Bond parody that makes some earnest points about women in the workplace. I don’t know how I missed it in 2015.
Robert Caro, move over. Min Jin Lee is my research icon. This interview with her about her writing process, the Korean diaspora, and education is long, but worth it.
“The Last Days of Sheila” is a ‘70s fizzy candy of a whodunnit. Stream it if you like a cold case, an eccentric older man who’s orchestrated the whole story line à la Christopher Plummer in Knives Out, and closed-door mysteries that take place on a ship.
I just started The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark, which I found through Kelsey McKinney’s sadly defunct newsletter. It’s a nonfiction book about oysters published in 1964, and reading it is like getting hit in the face with a prose pie and sticking your tongue out and realizing it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. I can’t help but quote her description of Locmariaquer oysters: “You are eating the sea, that’s it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by come sorcery, and are on the verge of remembering you don’t know what, mermaids or the sudden smell of kelp on the ebb tide or a poem you read once, something connected to the flavor of life itself…”
I hope you have a great month! Follow your weirdest instincts, rest when you need to, and read something good.