<= 2017.08.21

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

Jan van Goyen, Fishing Boats off an Estuary: the longer I looked at it, the more red I saw in the gray.

What I wanted to say about Velázquez goes back to my last London visit and Christ Contemplated by the Christian Soul, an allegory with no allegorical layering. There’s no landscape, no sky. The child and angel and Christ all occupy the same level, in the same close and dark interior space. And in a frightening frame-breaking, the streaked line of sight indicates not the child’s gaze on Christ but Christ’s gaze back on the child, piercing the heart under his clasped hands.

A personification is meant to flesh out the abstraction, but I can’t follow the child anywhere other than back to itself. It’s too much a child. The situation is too near what I remember as the child’s experience of Christianity, that inescapable presence before the mind is able to reason anything away. The tortured man and the instruments of his torture are right there, as in a dream. You’d see them if you opened your closet at night. And what are those dark, heart-piercing eyes asking, except that you intervene?

You don’t intervene. The angel over your shoulder sees to that.

I probably spent the most time in front of the Velázquez Kitchen Scene, a companion to the one I almost saw in Dublin, only no supper with Christ in the background. J. thinks a patron must have seen that painting and asked for a version with the supper left out: “That’s a bit intense... can you just do it in vanilla?” I thought the supper might still be going on behind the wall. Who’s to know? There’s something about the Counter-Reformation there; but either way the things were all so present, the light on the earthenware nothing like the light on the brass.

<= 2017.08.21