On the theory that life was going to pot, we took an unplanned 24 hours in Monterey. R. is now more interested in the natural world, will stare with her parents at sardines, mackerel, anchovies, lookdowns stamped from tinfoil with their spines showing, leopard sharks; though for some reason, what she most enjoyed was a piece of live-action theater on the history of the bay. Ohlone reed boats, Chinese immigrants night-fishing for squid with lanterns in baskets, collapse and recovery of sardines.
I was surprised by the recovery story (partial, temporary) of the Colorado River delta. (Journalism, journalism, video produced in the way of videos.) Old memories there, hiking through ten miles of gully until you get to the stream, because the stream is where the general hostility of things abates and you can stop for a while. Parts of the gully itself can also work, if enough rainwater collects for cottonwoods or sycamores to grow; but a stream is better.
I have to-read list of Analytical Work around this: Beyond the Hundredth Meridian; Cadillac Desert; Dead Pool.
The paintings I saw in L.A. are still in front of me—when I’m driving, say, in place of the road. The milliners are still on the clock.
Geoffrey Hill, To the High Court of Parliament
Where’s probity in this—
to lordship of a kind
as rats to a bird-table?
England—now of genius
unsubstantial yet voiding
substance like quicklime:
privatize to the dead
let her wounds weep
into the lens of oblivion.
Strange week for his death; I had been thinking about this poem in particular, with the UK taking itself apart. One of the great, mournful questioners into the nature of that country (PJ Harvey the other).
R. knows about gravity but wants to be told why the moon doesn’t fall down, and it turns out I can’t say; all I have is a paternal non-answer (“There's a thing called ‘stable orbit...’”). So I’m on notice that I’ll have to start looking things up.
By coincidence or very deep design I’ve been reading in Gravity and Grace after going to see Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio about Simone Weil: great music, her sweepy idiom with a chamber orchestra (a really good one, International Contemporary Ensemble) has more of a contemplative Webern sound, Julia Bullock sings like anything, and the libretto was biopic-grade sentimentalizing that ought to have just been replaced with words written by Weil herself. Which is why I’ve been reading them on the train. Notebook extracts and very short, suitable for a first sortie on the workday, if not for a desk calendar. Pour atteindre le détachement total, le malheur ne suffit pas. Il faut un malheur sans consolation.
And I like my job. But the lack of time is absolutely general, my drummer and bassist are too busy to write back, everyone is just trying to make a living out here in Pacific City, where every strongbox has a hole in the bottom. The ground itself, measured and priced, shrinks by inches under your feet....
Taking R. to a children’s museum. At the center of a large room is a small Plexiglas box on a stand. Inside the box is a lynx, sitting stomach to floor because it does not have enough room to stand or turn around. Directly in front of the lynx’s face is a small video screen on which colored patterns cohere and dissolve. It blinks; from time to time its tufted ears twitch. A sign beneath the box reads: QUIET. LEARNING.
“At least it’s learning,” I say with relief. “They wouldn’t keep it in there if this was bad for it.”
Train in three minutes, says the electric sign. I like the hills from the platform because their apparent curve is strong but completely askew from the slant of the roads climbing them; a van appearing from under the guardrail looks like it’s just driven into a picture book from the margin. Train in two minutes, says the sign.
Belly full of coffee, computer in the bag, one hand on the bike. This is what routine feels like: you don’t need to use both hands any more. Train in three minutes, says the sign. That’s a disturbance but not a large one, and provokes no curiosity on the platform. A puddle on the track reflects scraps of moving cloud in sepia tone. It’s a cheap effect, but when you look up at the wider span of gray its motion isn’t apparent in the same way.
Train in two minutes, says the sign. Train in three minutes. Frowns on the platform. The sign isn’t supposed to do this. If this keeps up, people like me will have to grab their bikes with both hands. I fucked up my taxes this year, having no experience in handling such sums; on the other hand, Turtle Diary in my bag seems to offer encouragement even amid the goat rodeo of a workday. I’m not going anywhere else, neither is anyone else on the platform. Routine is stronger than bad data. We’ll wait.
Train in two minutes. Train in three minutes.
It (the virus and everything else) is summed up quickest in saying that every time you go on vacation, the Archaïscher Torso pops out of the right margin like Clippy and says, “It looks like you’re on vacation. Do you want to change your life?”
Sick on Curtailment
“Fight’s over but I’ll fight on”—the inhibition, at 37, against simply writing down the song in one’s head is part of the problem, the lack of fluency.
In fact I don’t want to know the WiFi password. More harm than good.
The world outside, that one never got inside: it had much surface but very little volume. No one stayed long.
“You need something that makes money while you sleep.” You also need something that doesn’t steal your sleep.
I am getting old very efficiently.
Sours and sweets of exile. The schoolyard wish for retribution, never entirely softened, and the corollary wish to turn into a cactus. I can root between these rocks for centuries. No one will touch my watery heart.
I was glad to read a brief defense of rubbish by the lately passed Peter Dickinson, whose own books I never read though J. remembers them. We’re now reading Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown to R. the second time through. If she has her mother’s proclivities there will (I hear) be a couple dozen more go-rounds.
Someone put a glowing white cross on the top of Albany Hill. It must be seasonal but I am freaked out by its appearance in the rain.
The bicycle is timed to the minute. The shower. Get your pants on, kid, and no, we don’t know where your other fleece is. Out of milk. Then situate yourself in the workplace, remain in that known condition until it’s time, again, to time a bicycle to the minute, and no, no one bought any milk in the meantime. This is what we call the loom of duty; you wove it yourself.
Sometimes the days are too weighty for R. to stay awake through dinner. This evening I got to bolt back out of doors at six, spent a couple hours writing at a coffeehouse, a couple more writing with a good Belgian-style something at Schmidt’s Pub; when was the last time I spent four consecutive hours on anything? It was fruitful, yes, the way it often used to be. Came home feeling briefly very happy in the rain, a little like the hellebore that I planted out front on a slight slope not wholly shaded in summer afternoons. It would throw up shoots, the shoots turned yellow and brown and fell off, I gave it up for dead months ago. Today I noticed that the last weeks of clouds and rain had not only revived it but, apparently, generated it a whole new body from nothing. The vegetable soul, φύσις, conserves its virtue. It’s been damned hard to sprout this year.
More works, more days
KALX was playing a Hibernophile song called “Six Whiskies in Me”: not a great song but a great refrain, the internal near-rhyme and then in me, the satisfaction of a thing done.
I dreamt that my department at work had gotten involved with an engineering professor who had an incomprehensible piece of hardware called the ES-98765DX or some such; it was huge, no one understood what it did, my job was to write a driver for it.
We had a pet bilby living in the house. It was happy whenever R. was around. Alone with me it was distrustful and slunk off along the wall.
I did the pencil, R. the marker and watercolor. I’m pleased with how it came out, but she has impossible standards, and I hope they never change.