Everything smells like burn, aircraft move around, there’s a brown haze in the north and the sun at dusk was a case of pinkeye. Hot autumn. I’ve done very little in the yard this year. A scrub jay mistakes poplar fuzz caught in a cobweb for an edible spider; it has a hard time scraping its beak clean once the mistake becomes clear.
Big Data came to the day job. (It was bound to.) Around three or four in the morning I found myself taking an online assessment that would measure my response to various artifacts and situations and plot them on a scale from “Baroque” to “Zen.” My final score was 100% Baroque and 0% Zen. “I am so far from what I wish!”
It’s a master class around here in lying down where all the ladders start.
I stayed up late finishing Oblomov. From the book’s reputation I was expecting a pure novelty piece about inaction, and that part was very funny; but two hundred pages in, Oblomov meets a young lady and the book puts on the full dress of a nineteenth-century novel.
“Olga,” he said, barely touching her waist with two fingers (she stopped), “you’re wiser than I am.”
She shook her head.
“No,” she said, “I’m simpler and more courageous.”
The love scenes are top-notch—Olga is fantastic—and for a long stretch it had the same forward pull that I get from Fanny Burney and the Brontës (naive and sentimental reader). The Magarshack translation is good too; it has that bit of starch that you want in your Russian books. Oblomov’s Russo-German friend is an Ideal of Conduct, and would get wearying except that Goncharov knows the Ideal of Conduct must always resign himself to being a bit of a jerk, and wrings sympathy out of it.
St Hugh’s College said [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] portrait had been replaced with a Japanese painting.
Other Things That Should Be Replaced with a Japanese Painting
—Coconut water billboards
—“Simply Albany” signs on San Pablo
—Photos of President and Vice President in federal offices
—Credit card offers from airlines
—Boxes of greeting cards received fifteen years ago
—Nation’s Giant Hamburgers
—The clot of chicken wire and poplar fuzz out back
I walked my failure up a hill in the dark. We sat side by side with the lights of the bay under us.
—Life, I said, could be very long yet. Could you stand to eat fourteen thousand more breakfasts over forty more years?
It put its paw in my lap and looked at me with big dumb eyes. It’s all instinct with them, all in the moment. They don’t know.
if you eat breakfast for dinner that could be as high as twenty-eight thousand!!
let he who isn't essentially sisyphus cast the first stone? xo
And that one talent which is death to hide lodged under all the other talents that don’t mean a thing.
Shadowed purple clouds, low and blown sideways, a scrim over the sunlit pink clouds farther up.
The monarch on the sidewalk in front of the library fanning its wings, fluttering, sometimes capsized by the wind was so vivid and dark that it might have just come out of the chrysalis. I moved it to the shrubs with a stick. But as soon as I set it down, its flapping and clambering took it back onto the pavement. Frangible soul. I’m writing this in the grocery store. By the time I walk back, it’s gone one way or another.
Time to get started, for real, chips a voice in me nearly every morning, optimistic goldfish brain that has no clue how long everything’s been in motion already.
I’m haunted by the later years of Ask Scott because they seem to tell a familiar story: disciplining oneself into acceptance because no other route is possible, and because despair is a sin.
I’m utterly serious about music, I just respect the buying public’s judgment that it’s not what I should do for a living. I listen to and think about music all the time. But I also do think businessmen are okay—or at least I think an impulse such as disliking “suits” is suspect.
What I’ve since learned from people like Dante is that at a pretty high level of spiritual discipline, we can attain a state where indulging free will is fruitful because our strivings are coherent and giving, but short of that, excessive freedom is typically a formula for trivial and unfaithful pursuit of what passes for personal advantage.
I miss the couple of weeks right after a release when it’s possible to imagine that people are going to enthusiastically embrace it.
Is it really four years since I last marked this day by going over to the Asian? In the meantime they’ve built another San Francisco on top of San Francisco. Girl on the train with a choke collar and beautiful mohawk, a face so unlined she must be closer in age to R. than to me. J. says: I think you’ve suppressed yourself, gotten used to dissolving yourself in duty and agreeability. I know what that’s like and it’s not good. If you can’t stand to turn attention on your own self, it’s a massive overcorrection.
What have I learned since 35? More kanji. What it’s like to have a good job (spoiler: it’s both good and obviously still a job). I want to say that going to Korea was subtly “life-changing,” without too much melodrama, but I’m not ready for the follow-up questions.
Apparently I was thinking about renunciation four years ago too, long before I finished my unfashionable novel and started putting it in the mail (a process that’s sapped more of the last six months than I could wish). Thinking about renunciation is not the same as renouncing. Probably I don’t know how to do it, and this is why people have spiritual advisors. Trying to smother the self doesn’t work, but you want to clear out the garden; by default I’m attracted (too attracted?) to spareness and solitude, Ni Zan landscapes. Why aren’t there any people in your paintings, they asked Ni Zan; and he said, I don’t know that there’s anyone around in the world.
They don’t have Ni Zan in San Francisco of course; you have to go to Shanghai or Taipei for that. But there’s plenty of art without people. Chao Shao-An’s Gorges seems (through my eyes overtrained by photography) to be saying that there’s a right and wrong way to get at Meng Jiao’s gorge poems. There really are gibbons and ghosts of the mind; he’s not making that up. Still the world needs tending. The next hurricane just landed.
In any case, the comment reveals the nature of Chinese estimations of Ch’iu [Ying]’s works. The Wu-sheng-shih shih describes them as “beautiful and elegant, full of delicate and graceful detail. The brushwork was so refined that the pictures looked as if they had been carved in jade.” This is a good description of the truly lapidary character of Ch’iu’s most polished productions, of which the Golden Valley Garden is certainly one. We might also, however, find the profusion and variety of jadelike detail in it a bit excessive and agree with Wang Chih-teng who (borrowing a phrase from the pre-Han work Chan-kuo t’e charged that Ch’iu, “when painting a snake, could not refrain from adding feet.”
—James Cahill, Parting at the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty, 1368–1580