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Interview with the Afternoon Birder

Beloved Birders!

You may already be a fan of The Afternoon Birder through Laura’s stunning photographs and also through her recent decision make 2018 her Big Year of Birding Reading. I’ve been following Laura since she started her fantastic blog a year and a half ago and have loved living vicariously through her (intrepid) birding travels. A self-proclaimed Bohemian Waxwing whisperer, I’ve become fascinated by her uncanny ability to attract hundreds of my favorite nemesis birds wherever she goes. What can I say – she’s just that cool. Laura joined me for this conversation via email from her current home in Fernie, BC. All photos in the interview by Laura. Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

I’ll be honest with you. Bohemian Waxwings are my nemesis bird. I saw a flock about six years ago, but that was before I really started birding seriously and I had no idea what I was looking at. Now that I am desperate to see one, they’re nowhere to be found. Every time I get on Twitter, I seem to see another one of your awesome photos or videos of you surrounded by Bohemian Waxwings! How do you do it?

No whispering skills required in Fernie. I see large flocks of 100-500 individuals almost every day here. They are abundant at the moment! In Ottawa (where I’m from), they are more difficult to see. I use eBird to search for recent sightings and I get out in the field as much as I can. The more you head out birding, the higher your chances will be (if they are in your area).

How did you become interested in birds?

My Mum is an avid bird-watcher so I grew up with it. Our family would often take walks in nature and my Mum would point out the birds she saw. Over time I was able to identify birds myself. Birding was always a big part of my childhood, I can’t really remember a time without it!

What do you love most about birds?

I love the variety of species, behaviors and habits and that you are never done learning. Birding is always a challenge and, even for experts, there are always new things to discover.

About birding?

I also like that birding gets you outside and exploring places you normally wouldn’t go. It also keeps you in the moment and in tune with the natural world.

You speak openly about the challenges of living with a chronic medical condition on your blog. How has birding helped you cope with life changes?

Birding has been a godsend for me since being diagnosed with a dizziness condition. I don’t know what I would be doing without it! It’s the perfect activity because you can do as little or as much as you want. If I’m having a bad day, I can enjoy watching birds on my feeder or I can edit my photographs. On a better day I can get outdoors and have a purpose. It keeps me occupied, challenged and gets me out into nature.

I also enjoy the social aspect of birding. Having a chronic medical condition can be isolating, but I’ve met so many great people from birding. Everyone I’ve met has been very understanding of my limitations and it’s great to get out in the field with people for a couple of hours to break up my day.

Osprey, photographed on Sanibel Island, Florida
“I like this photograph because it represents the beauty of Florida wildlife photography. The sun is always shining and many bird species allow you get much closer than in other places.This particular individual was hanging around a fishing pier, no doubt looking for a handout. It was perched up on a post so I took the shot from below as it gave me a curious glance. I love that you can see the details in its eyes.”

You’re a birder and a photographer. How does one influence/enhance the other?

I consider myself a birder first and a photographer second, but it’s a tough balance between the two. I only took up photography three and a half years ago when I was diagnosed with a dizziness condition and had to give up my career. I saw my Mum’s superzoom camera on a shelf, I picked it up and started taking photographs of the birds in the backyard. I was amazed by the quality this little camera could achieve. Since then, photography has become a passion of mine, but I never forget my birding roots.

When I head out in the field, I tend to focus on either photography or birding. It can be difficult to focus on both at the same time. If I’m with a group or birders and the goal is to see as many species as possible, there isn’t time to frame the perfect shot. I still enjoy the rush of trying to get a photograph under pressure, but it is a different style of photography. I also think that being a good birder helps make you a better photographer. Knowing the species and how to find them is half the battle with photography!

When I want to focus purely on photography, I tend to go out on my own or with one other person. If you find a cooperative bird to photograph, you stay in one spot (sometimes for ages) to get as many great photos as possible. I think a positive thing that photography brings to the table is it forces you to slow down and enjoy the bird in front of you. You notice these small details that often get lost when you’re birding.

I have a somewhat personal question for you. My partner isn’t a birder; actually a bird guide in Arizona affectionately labeled him a S.O.B. (spouse of a birder), and sometimes it’s a challenge to convince him that birds are worth waking up at 5am. Or rather, I’ve had to perfect my creative, covert manipulation tactics. Have you been able to convert your partner to birding?

I haven’t fully converted him to birding and I don’t think I ever will! We met before I became dizzy and in those days I wasn’t very interested in birding. Nowadays birding is my favourite activity so it’s a been a big transition for us. Luckily my partner is very understanding and he doesn’t hate birding so I will take that as a win! He will come out with me in the field and he likes certain species, like birds of prey and jays. He also takes pride in trying to spot a bird before me! One time when I was away, he borrowed my camera and got a great photograph of a Fox Sparrow that I had been trying (and failing) to photograph. I had to hear about how great a photographer he was for weeks after.

I can totally relate. My husband still won’t let me live down the time he spotted a Snowy Owl before I did! Every time he sees movement in a tree and I don’t, he assures me it was probably a rare bird sighting that I missed because I wasn’t paying attention! How do you manage making travel fun & inspiring for you, birdwise, while also leaving room for other activities that might be more his-cup-of-tea?

Trips are a challenge, but we try to find a balance. Last year we did a ski trip to Whistler and we agreed to do 3 days of birding in Vancouver beforehand. I knew by the end of the 3 days he would have had enough, but in Whistler I didn’t expect him to do any birding. It was a great compromise.  

Who are some of the birding mentors/influences in your life?

First and foremost my Mum is the biggest birding mentor and influence in my life. Without her, I probably would never have started birding. She bought me my first field guide and taught me the vast majority of what I know about birds.

A second birding mentor in my life is friend and professional guide Jon Ruddy of Eastern Ontario Birding. Jon goes miles above and beyond what is expected of a bird guide. When I wanted to work on my shorebird ID skills last fall, he sent me literature to read, shorebird ID quizzes and helped me identify individuals I was struggling with. His knowledge, expertise and willingness to help made it so much easier to raise my birding skills to the next level.

Young Hooded Merganser photographed at Mud Lake in Ottawa
“Both Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks breed in this location and on this particular day I was lucky enough to catch a brand new batch of ducklings come to shore. These species are cavity nesters so the ducklings seem to appear from nowhere! What is even more interesting is this Hooded Merganser was being raised by a Wood Duck mother. Hoodies will lay their eggs in Wood Duck’s nest cavities, leaving the Wood Ducks to raise their young. It’s fascinating to watch the group together because Hoodies are diving ducks and Wood Ducks are dabblers. The Hooded Merganser babies are still able to learn to dive, even though they are being raised by a dabbling Wood Duck.”

How do you go about improving your birding skills?

My mom often sends me texts saying “you have 10 seconds to identify the species in this photograph”. Seriously!

I love it! Now that’s true birdy nerdiness!

In 2017, I set myself a goal of improving my shorebird ID skills. This post goes into the details, but basically I decided to focus my efforts on shorebirds. I studied field guides, I got help from an expert and I went out in the field as much as possible. The strategy worked and I feel much more confident about this group now.

Do you use apps? Take classes? 

I’ve never taken a course – my skills are self-taught and learned from my Mum and professional guides. I use field guides and apps to help – I like Merlin and The Warbler Guide. I also monitor eBird closely for recent sightings and if I see something interesting, then I will do a specific trip to that location to try and find it. Otherwise, I will just head out and see what I see. After you’ve been birding for awhile, you figure out where the birding “hotspots” are in your area. I normally start with these!

Eastern Bluebird in a snow squall photographed in Ottawa 
“This is one of my favourite photographs! A unique combination of events came together to make this moment happen. Eastern Bluebirds don’t usually show up in Ottawa until later in the spring, but a pair was reported at the beginning of March. I set off to the location with low expectations of seeing them. It was quite a large area and I wandered around for over an hour without seeing them. It then started snowing and I figured I had no chance, but then some movement caught my eye up ahead on the trail. Even with my naked eye I could see the brilliant blue of what could only be an Eastern Bluebird! It was an amazing sight on an otherwise colourless winter’s day.”

What was the idea behind your decision to start a Big Year of Bird Reading? I’m so excited that it’s getting lots of press on social media and a lot of people seem to be reading along! You’ve started a trend!

I read Noah Stryker’s Birding Without Borders at the end of 2017. It was the first non field guide book about birding that I’ve read and I loved it! At the start of 2018 I decided to read Ken Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway and part-way through it I had the idea to set myself a challenge of reading 12 books about birding during the year. I wrote a blog post about it and it has been so well received by people! I’m thrilled that so many are joining in on the challenge. People have started commenting on the post after they’ve read a book with their thoughts. I love the idea that the post will become a great resource for anyone looking to discover books about birding.

I’ve now finished Kingbird Highway and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been to a few of the places that Kenn visits on his big year so it was really great being able to picture exactly where he was. I also found it was easier to connect with this book than Birding Without Borders because I am much more familiar with North American birds. I think reading this type of book is great for learning – you pick up tips about birding by following along on other people’s adventures. Kenn is so descriptive about the species and places he visits – I learned so much!

OK I have to ask, since you’ve been reading Kaufmann and Stryker, whose epic trips revolve around listing: to list or not to list? Where on the spectrum do you fall?

I’m not a lister, but I do record my sightings on eBird. I like to bird for the pleasure of birding rather than to do so competitively. I also don’t have the energy to chase every rare bird that shows up.  Saying that, someone recently told me that I’m in the top 5 for the East Kootenay region for number of species seen in 2018. I might have to up my game!

What’s next for you?

I plan to continue blogging and building up my readership. I also recently moved to Fernie, British Columbia, from Ottawa, which means a whole different set of birds to learn and see. In terms of upcoming travel plans, I’m going to the UK in May and getting the opportunity to bird with Dominic Couzens (author of numerous bird books and professional bird guide). I’m also going to Newfoundland in the spring where I hope to see Puffins and other nesting seabirds.

Good luck Laura! Can’t wait to hear about your travels and….see your photos!

When Clothes Make the Birder

Beloved Birders!

I’ve discovered the particular thrill in matching my wardrobe choices with bird sightings. There’s nothing better than seeing a Dickcissel while wearing a DICK t-shirt, designed by Paul Riss. I saw Sandhill cranes in Arizona while wearing my SACR t-shirt. I’ve spotted many a Snowy owl while clad in my SNOW toque. The first Red-winged Blackbird sighting of spring is made all the more splendid if I’m wearing my RWBL tshirt.

In fact, I attribute my failure to see the Scissortail flycatcher that graced Toronto’s west end earlier this summer to the fact that my STFL t-shirt was in the laundry. But such is life.

I returned from vacation on the West Coast with numerous birdy items, including a fetching owl sweatshirt, two bird prints, and too many bird cards to count. The only thing I regret, in retrospect, is that I didn’t manage to purchase a wearable item with shorebirds on it, because we’re now in shorebird season and I’m convinced that distinguishing between a Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs would be easier if I had the bird imprinted on an item of clothing.

There’s a misconception that birders wear primarily Tilley hats and multi-pocketed vests. Although the two items often form the staples of a birder’s outfit, people have started branching out. Designers such as Paul Riss are fearlessly revolutionizing birders’ wardrobes, which seems to go hand in hand with the general trend that birding is suddenly becoming hip. (A recent article in Macleans speaks to the popularity spike of birding as a hobby among millenials.)

What is happening? Have I suddenly, unbeknownst to me, transformed from arch-nerd into inadvertent trendsetter?


Beloved Birders,

I could tell you about my amazing trip to Carden Alvar, where I saw two Wilson’s Snipe up close and personal (so close I didn’t even need binoculars), where I saw numerous Bobolink, correctly identified the song of a Grasshopper Sparrow (it would have been hard NOT to ID this song — he was buzzing nonstop and somewhat ferociously), saw a Golden-winged Warbler, a Loggerhead Shrike, an Upland Sandpiper, and even a hybrid Brewster’s Warbler. I could tell you about how I accidentally misidentified a Brown Thrasher as an Eastern Meadowlark, not once, not twice, but four times total until the form finally sank in and now I feel like I could recognize a Brown Thrasher in my sleep…until, of course, the next time I misidentify him…I could tell you all that and more.

But instead, I’ll tell you that this morning, I finally decided to go through my 1970 & 80s children’s books, all sent to me by my grandmother from the former Soviet Union, books I read myself and books that were read to me by my parents, poems and prose, most of them imaginatively illustrated, printed on brittle paper, with a price stamp on the back (most of the books cost between 5 and 10 kopeks). I’ve been keeping these books for my nephew, and I think he might be old for us to read him some of these…then again, he might just try to eat the books and they’re likely toxic, so this might backfire! I remembered some of these books — fairy tales, stories by Pushkin, poems by Chukovsky, but I had no idea how many books I had growing up about birds! Titmice and Nightingales and Woodpeckers and Eagles and Owls and Bullfinches — this was a world I felt quite at home in as a child. Who knew?

I keep saying that I discovered birds at the age of 35, accidentally, on a whim, while auditioning hobbies, but now it turns out the narrative is more nuanced. That maybe, unbeknownst to me, this birding obsession is, in itself, a homecoming of sorts. Maybe they were there all along, just waiting for me to look up and take notice.

How little it turns out we know about the very things we think we understand so deeply.

And so the scribing continues (both at the banding station and beyond, in my semi-writerly life, too), as a way of gaining yet another ounce of a semblance of understanding. But without that impulse, that striving toward understanding(no matter how flawed) — where would I be?

Staring at a Magnolia Warbler

Beloved Birders!

There’s a magnolia warbler staring at me from my wall. It’s March and the Mincing Mockingbird calendar pic couldn’t be more uplifting:

Magnolia Warbler by the Mincing Mockingbird. Image from here.

This means spring is actually coming, which, in truth, was confirmed to me two weeks ago when I saw my first Killdeer up on the mountain near Hamilton. But seeing the Maggie face to face like this is of another order of magnitude. Two months from now, I’ll be volunteering at the banding station again, will likely extract one from the net and hold it in my hand. That’s when I’ll know it’s actually spring.

That I measure the seasons now by the birds I know, sometimes even by the birds I hold in my hand, is something new. That I measure time by the months until my first pine warbler sighting, first robin, first snowy owl delights me. This year, of course, time and weather are performing peculiar acrobatics: one day it feels like spring, I shed my winter clothing and the next day there’s a dusting of snow on the ground. I feel I’m standing on uncertain ground most days, never exactly sure what to wear, either sweating or shivering. I’m not a creature who basks in uncertainty: I much prefer routine,

And yet the Magnolia warbler stares back at me every time I turn my head to the left, and I can’t help but smile knowing that the trees will soon be dotted with warblers (if you know where to look) and that soon I’ll awake to bird song.

When a Raven Looks like a Goose

Beloved Birders,

There are some days when, no matter how you look at things, a raven looks more like a goose. It’s an unfortunate moment in time when ravens start to look gooselike, because I think it’s a sign of larger things going awry. And that’s the kind of couple weeks it’s been here in Birds and Words land. (You’ll remember that a few years ago I nearly lost it when my beloved Sibley wall calendar had a Canada Goose grace my birthday month. A friend of geese I am not. I want to tell the geese of the world that it’s not you, it’s me. But they likely won’t listen to me.)


Sheojuk Etidlooie’s magnificent “Raven in Red” (1996) is, alas, a misnomer. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this raven looks positively goose-like. 

The good thing about time is that it passes. And what appeared to look like a goose a few weeks ago, now still looks like a goose, but without the touch of resentment.

And then before you know it you’re out in the field searching for a Lark Sparrow and you see it almost immediately, which relieves you from having to stand in frigid temperatures for more than five minutes, and the day keeps getting better because you then drive to Thickson’s woods, dreaming of owls, see none, but continue onwards to Lynde Shores — where you happen upon a field of 10,000 CANADA GEESE of all things and instead of screaming you just laugh — and find the most resplendent Barred Owl imaginable. And you’re home by noon, just in time for the day’s second cup of coffee and the pile of holiday cards that need composing, and the work projects that need attending to.

And suddenly that goose-like raven, which had offended you so gravely, now looks rather cute. And you wonder how an artist’s imagination could perceive a slick black raven in such radiant red hues. And for the first time in a while, you smile, in earnest.

Back from the land of Arctic Terns

Dearest, Birdiest Readers!

I’m back from two weeks in Iceland and am trying to figure out how to readjust to Toronto life where the weather doesn’t change drastically every couple of hours, where the northern light doesn’t blind you at 8pm in late August, where I can’t sip a delicious latte in a cowshed cafe. Yes, you read those last words correctly. We discovered Iceland’s best cafe, located in a bona fide cowshed about 10 km south of Akureyri. Where else in the world could we sip lattes and eat waffles with fresh cream whilst surrounded by 200 cows going about their (somewhat smelly) business? We even watched the milking process via webcam, and it was nothing short of riveting (yes, our portion of the cafe was glassed in).

Here are the lovelies at KaffiKu. Not your usual coffee shop. Many great black-backed gulls flying overhead, above the barn.

Here are the lovelies at KaffiKu. Not your usual coffee shop. Many great black-backed gulls flying overhead, above the barn.

It’s not easy to readjust to a landscape with trees, with more than one lane of traffic, with crowds of people. I seemed to have no problem getting used to the miles of lava fields, volcanic rock covered in thick moss, and to the near constant crisply harsh sounds of arctic terns overhead. I miss being surrounded by ocean, I miss the omnipresent geothermal swimming pools (we tried out eight different ones; if you’re planning a trip to Iceland, I have plenty of advice!), I miss the delicious vinarbraud (custard and almond croissants of which I consumed at least two every single day), I miss the herring (sadly we didn’t make it to the national herring museum), I miss the colossal sky and fabulously fickle weather, I miss Icelandic non-nonsense ways and absence of garrulous & often meaningless politeness, I miss it all. Perhaps, if I’m being brutally honest, I also miss being on vacation.

In birdier news, I was proud of my modest ID skills that I managed to exercise: we saw Kittiwakes, Oystercatchers, White wagtails, a gazillion great back-backed gulls, and shore birds of every persuasion, but I was scope-less (not to mention skill-less in the shore bird department!), and couldn’t ID much of anything. I studied the birds I knew and contented myself with that.

I did have one unexpected birdy experience. While visiting Halldor Laxness’ house/museum, Gljufrasteinn, I happened on the most lovely sight in his bedroom. Right there, on the windowsill, across from his bed, lay a pair of Zeiss binoculars, which Laxness used every single day of his life. I was alone in the museum and probably proceeded to do something semi-legal: I picked up the binoculars and took a look through his mid-century Zeiss optics, to catch a glimpse of the world — his ancestral hills, mountains and fields — exactly as Halldor Laxness saw it. And to think that five years ago, I wouldn’t have even noticed the binoculars; they would have meant as little to me as the religious paraphernalia on the bedside table.

Halldor Laxness' Zeiss binoculars. Gljufrasteinn museum.

Halldor Laxness’ Zeiss binoculars. Gljufrasteinn museum.

How delightfully strange life is. How miraculously unexpected its twists and turns.

Meanwhile, with birds

It’s been hard to find the words. Or rather, I’ve been searching for and sifting through words about my relationship with birds elsewhere of late. If anything comes of my meandering thoughts, I’ll let you know. So we’ll save the big-picture discussions for another time, and I’ll let you know what’s been happening in the meanwhile.

Where to begin. I could tell you about my catastrophic ID experience a few weeks ago, wherein I accidentally called a Green heron a Hummingbird (yes, I did admit that the hummingbird seemed exceedingly large for some reason) or all the ways in which I’ve failed to differentiate between a Magnolia and a Canada warbler, or my inability to distinguish between a Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted (from below). Or I could tell you about my most recent trips to Long Point and Pelee and Rondeau. Or I could relay that I’ve recently completed my second birdathon, with a grand total of 129 birds, most of them seen in abysmally dismal fog and rain conditions. I could regale you with lists and new lifers.

Instead, I’ll tell you this. My life now seems to be with birds, and I’m not sure how that change has come about exactly. I wear my Zeiss bins across my chest, like a purse. When stopped at a traffic light, my eyes immediately wander to the tops of trees, scanning instinctively. New urban sounds now comfort me: I’m in the company of robins, cardinals, mourning doves, a lone Baltimore oriole. That something so simple as birds could bring so much meaning to my life, so much intrinsic pleasure, and that these birds had been here all along, and that I’m finally learning the art of how to pay attention, how to abandon expectation (who doesn’t walk into a situation with a target bird?) in favour of the spontaneity of the moment, the beauty of the unplanned and unimagined — now that might just be magic.




Dearest, Birdiest Readers! In non-birdy news, I will regale you with an essay I wrote called The Chestnut Roast, which has just gone live over at The Toast — a fabulous, quirky, hilarious, slightly subversive online hub of greatness. The action takes place a mere two years before the narrator (aka:yours truly) discovers Birds and she is, admittedly, in a bit of a sorry state. Aren’t you happy she found birding (or birding found her)? Otherwise, it might have been a life of chestnut chasing… And if you like what you read, please do share!

This Season: 29 warblers

Beloved birders! This changing of the seasons is a bit emotional for me. You see, I get so invested in Spring and then poof, it’s gone. Perhaps not quite that suddenly, but it really does feel altogether too quick, these 31 days of May. A quick recap of the season, which has been my most productive yet. (Although, I should note that right when I thought my birdsong recognition was improving, I had an embarrassing moment wherein I confused the Cardinal’s song for the Ovenbird’s. And of course I still think that everybody is singing “drink your tea”, not just the Eastern Towhee… more on mnemonics later… and I seem to hear “whitchety whichety whichety” even when the bird is saying something else altogether. Humbling, as always.)

This season yielded 29 warblers and, perhaps even more notably, a warbler dream! On Friday night, I dreamt I was teaching my husband how to distinguish the Blue winged warbler song from the Golden-winged warbler’s: bee-buzz vs. (a trilled) brrrr bzz bzz bzz! And I got the song right in my dream. I don’t remember my husband’s reaction to such technical bird-talk, but I woke up completely startled by my birdy prowess. This hobby that I thought would be so temporary is now weaving its way into my subconscious! This elevates Spring Migration to a whole new order of magnitude.

The highlights? A Hooded warbler peeking out of the foliage in Backus Woods (Long Point area), a Canada Warbler (misidentified as a Hooded by yours truly, but such is life) fluttering about in Rondeau, an Indigo Bunting singing his heart out at eye level at Carden Alvar, a Cerulean warbler frenetically jumping from branch to branch at eye level (Long Point), a Scarlet Tanager adorning a tree — almost like a Christmas ornament, a Prairie warbler demonstrating the full range of his crescendo on the ascent of his staccato song at Carden Alvar, Black-throated blue warblers showing off the elegance of their inimitable metallic blue coloring, Black-throated green warblers greeting me unexpectedly, countless American Redstarts — decked out in Halloween colors, and, the piece de resistance, a Yellow-headed Blackbird screeching his cacophonous song at daybreak.

We ended the season yesterday with a Mourning warbler sighting, which brought me to a grand total of 29 warbler species for the month of May. Of those, I managed to learn four songs. But it’s better than last spring, when I managed to learn one (!) song! It doesn’t come easy, this birding business, but it delights me more than I ever imagined.

That Other Life (A Blog Tour)

So you might be wondering, dear birdy readers, what it is that I do in those hours when I’m not misidentifying birds or suffering from warbler neck. In my other life, when I’m not lecturing to later life learners, or teach writing to exuberant teenagers or massacring a Beethoven piano sonata, I’m writing. And this post is dedicated to just that.

Thanks to the brilliant Maria Meindl for inviting me to join on this literary blog tour. Next week I will pass the torch to two wonderful writers, Heidi Reimer and Rebecca Rosenblum. Heidi writes both fiction and creative nonfiction and her brilliant essay about becoming a mother was most recently featured in The M Word. Rebecca has published two fantastic short story collections (Once and The Big Dream, which has one of my all-time favorite stories, Loneliness). Tune in next week to read their answers to the following four questions.

What am I working on?

Currently, I have a few things on the go. I’m usually not a multi-tasker, so this is new for me, but it seems to be working (thanks to generous support from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council and Access Copyright). I am tinkering with a memoir, Geographical Error, about my failed attempts at finding love and a home in mid-Missouri. I’m also working on a nonfiction project about how I unintentionally became a (somewhat crazed) birder. Another nonfiction project is all about how learning Yiddish is helping me unravel my family history.

How does my work different from others’ in this genre?

I write somewhere at the crossroads where fiction and reality meet. Happily, there’s a name for this world my writing inhabit, and it’s called creative nonfiction, but I hesitate to put a label on what I’m doing. I strive to bring a world to life, to fuel it with energy. I have great admiration for Gary Shteyngart – especially his memoir, Little Failure. In particular, I love how he pays homage to a tradition of humorists who have the power to make you laugh and cry in the same sentence. I like to think that my writing highlights the absurdities of life, the ridiculous inconsistencies, and also the accompanying pain. Most often, I write out of admiration, out of a love of literature; most of all, I want my words to add to a conversation with writers whose language I cannot fathom living without: Chekhov (always Chekhov), Tolstoy, Babel, Franzen, Munro, Proust, Lahiri, Robinson.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I’m addicted to making sense of the world around me. There’s nothing stranger and more fascinating to me than what I see and hear on a daily basis, whether it be family stories, overheard conversations, absurd interactions with my movers, what have you. I write to hoard and embalm the present moment. Yes, I’m a hoarder at heart.

How does my writing process work?

I wake up. I walk. I pour a cup of coffee. I settle into my office chair, turn on the computer, activate Freedom (it keeps me off the internet for large chunks of time; yes, I paid for this program; yes, I have an internet problem; no, I cannot write with any sort of online temptation; no, I’m not working through this issue at the moment, I’m just living with it), and attack the blank page. I hit the delete key a lot. There’s a notebook next to me. I write in it when things stall (often). Sometimes I take a hot shower. I read Marilynne Robinson and Anton Chekhov. Over and over, for the wisdom, the deceptive simplicity, the rhythm. I turn back to my computer screen, armed for another benevolent attack, desperate to figure out where my story is headed. I stare out the window (a lot). Eventually words accumulate. It’s humbling, and tortuous, and brutal and exhilarating (usually after the fact, rarely during).