Natalie Portman and "Everything is Illuminated" author Jonathan Safran Foer (who also happens to be the Literary Fuckboy Ambassador) have been exchanging email correspondence for more than 10 years. Now we, the privileged public, have been granted the opportunity to read a selection of them. What a time to be alive!
Allegedly, it was their relationship as pen pals that led Foer to want something more with the "Black Swan" actress. In 2014, he reportedly told his also-writerly wife, Nicole Krauss, he was leaving her for Portman. But, like a true fuckboy, he'd forgotten to run this by Portman first, and she ultimately rebuffed his advance. Whoops.
This ever-so-slightly awkward incident didn't impede their willingness to reconnect via email for a New York Times feature published Thursday (July 14). Rife with self-congratulatory references to their own intellects, the resulting exchange was about as pedantic as one can possibly get. I hadn't previously realized it was possible to kiss someone's ass so much while also simultaneously kissing your own. These emails are therein a feat of acrobatics.
Try to make it through the following list of their most eyeroll-inducing moments without deploying a facepalm. Just try.
Even though Foer was ostensibly interviewing Portman through these emails (the story's byline is his), he still found plenty of time to ramble about the mundane shit in his own life (in an ~intellectual~ way, of course).
He wrote: "It’s Thursday, garbage day. One of the garbage days, I should say. Thursday and Sunday are garbage days. Tuesday is garbage and recycling day. Monday and Tuesday are alternate-side parking days, which makes Tuesday — parking, garbage and recycling — a very special day, indeed. At 8:30 everyone double-parks, creating two lanes of parking on one side of the street. Once the street-cleaning Zamboni comes through, everyone moves his car back, but you have to stay in it until 10:00 — with the pretext of being able to move it if necessary, otherwise De Blasio’s willing executioner will slap you with a hefty ticket. I don’t know to what extent this is law, convention or a massive NPR conspiracy — literally half of my neighborhood sits around listening to the radio while watching the clock never tick."
Oh, but wait! His dull musings DO have a point! A ~~philosophical~~ one, at that.
"Why do I mention all of this? Because the garbage and parking are among the many rituals around which my daily life is organized. Some are imposed (like school pick-up times), some are self-originating if meaningless (like buying a seltzer every day on the way to pick-up) and some were created for the purpose of adding deliberateness and meaning to life."
He also revealed the unique form of torture he inflicts on his children.
"For the last half a year, we have played a game at dinner called the Wonder Line. If one of the kids can tell me something that generates the experience of wonder — the cocked head, slight nod, raised eyebrow and muttered 'hmmm ...” — we call it 'clearing the Wonder Line.' If they can clear it five times, they get to decide how we end the night, i.e., have ice cream, or watch a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' iteration."
Okay, not that there's anything wrong with the essential concept behind this. But you can just say a "'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie" instead of "iteration," dude. You've already proven your intellect, OK?
When Foer stopped talking about himself long enough to ask Portman a question, she had mostly insightful and thoughtful answers. But things got to be a bit much when she raised the topic of "sad girl chic."
"An ex-boyfriend of mine used to call me 'Moscow,' because he said I was always looking out the window sadly, like 'Moscow,' like some Russian novel or Chekhov play. Clearly there were grounds for this ex getting fired, but he did have a point — I have that longing, yearning, it’s-better-over-there tendency. It was illuminating for me to have Oz describe that kind of behavior in his mother as 'Slavic romantic melancholy,' because it associated it with a cultural tendency. And it’s true that there is a very cultural influence on that sort of yearning, depressive 'Moscow'-ing out the window (there must be one German adjective that describes this exact feeling).
"Do you remember how in the ’90s there was this sort of 'sad girl chic'? Like 'Reviving Ophelia' and Fiona Apple, and just a lot of sad, beautiful girls. And it felt like being deep or interesting or even attractive was being a little sullen, to use Ms. Apple’s word (whom I love by the way). And then living in France, I got the same ’90s sense, that there’s a beauty there culturally associated with sadness."
I dig etymology too. But MUST Portman wax on about it like she does in the following paragraph?
"Finding the etymological links between words feels like unlocking poetry from thousands of years ago — aligning with souls of humans across time. The way Oz traces these linguistic genealogies stops my breath: earth (adama), man (adam), blood (dam), red (adom), silence (doomia)... I guess it’s having an experience that gives you a feeling of wonder, to use your word, that you can then feel that you share with people — not just people around you, or people exposed to the things that you’re exposed to, but people in the desert looking at slightly younger versions of the same stars while herding sheep and believing that lightning was the wrath of G-d."
I'm not disagreeing with Portman. I'm mainly marveling at how and why reading these emails feels SO PAINFUL.
Brilliant, more mundane life updates from Foer!
"Hello from Blue Ridge Summit. All the cousins slept in the same room last night, which required half a dozen new amendments to the Constitution: who was allowed to wake up whom, and who was obligated to wake up whom, and under what conditions, and exactly how, and exactly when. Cy came into my room not long ago, grumpier than Ed Asner in 'Up,' bemoaning how everyone else was awake, and for all he knew, they’d been watching cartoons and eating dessert for hours, and now his entire weekend, not to mention his entire life, had been wasted with sleep. (It was 6:10 in the morning.) I tried to waste a bit more of my life with sleep while he whined, but he refused to be ignored. And when I attempted to gently point out the irony that he’d been complaining about wasted time for half an hour, he only redirected his anger from his cousins onto me."
Foer, PLEASE. Whatever additional recognition you crave for having wit and intelligence, we'll provide if you'll kindly STOP TALKING.
"Not even Shabbat can stop the clock — two have moved from the future to the past in the course of our having this exchange — but every now and then the broken-down time machine that is Hotmail can cough itself back to life."