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[MARCH 2007.]

Lack of information will not be a problem in this exam; the problem will be digging down through all the encrusted trivia, like finding the one sweater in the cramped closet that you actually wear. For almost a year this thing has been a constant dull pressure on my basilar artery, and as soon as it's over I might need go to Reno, because my loans remain in Loan Space, where all motion tends to increase the amount of the loan. Take the rate at which the canoe is leaking, plot it against the rate at which I can bail it out—

what a bright world how do they turn it up so bright that grass is someone’s fevered idea of grass


I had to go to campus anyway to get my psych meds refilled, so I took a sandwich and Los Ríos Profundos up into the hills, which are of course inhabited by the rich but surprisingly accessible; between the enormous garages and private tennis courts are a number of public paths and stairways, including some lovely old stonework that must have started out as part of someone’s Xanadu, leading into the open space preserve. From time to time I entertain ideas of getting back in shape; glance at those hills and you will understand what happens when a sloth like me tries to climb them. But I got up to a quiet roadside patch with the whole bay (I mean the whole damn bay, north and south) spread out below like liquid carpet; and there was downtown San Francisco poking gamely at the clouds. When I had regained homeostasis I took out my book and my lunch, at which point ten large and presumptous dogs charged around the bend and relieved me of my sandwich. They were followed by a yuppie woman in jogging pants.

“Hey! Bad dogs! Bad dogs!” she shouted, grabbed the current possessor of the sandwich and slapped ineffectually at its flank. “Did they get it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “They got it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. They—bad dog! If I had any money, I’d give you some.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“They don’t usually do that,” she said.

“I see,” I said, and because something else seemed required, “That’s a lot of dogs you have.”

She moved on. The heap of dogs followed her. I still had an apple, so I ate it, watched the clouds and felt a new chill in the wind. Since J. started working regular hours I’ve been alone more often and am starting to remember those long hours in Portland when I felt peripheral to everything. The indiscriminate yearning, the useless doe-eyed gaze down the road not taken (presumably leading to the same cliff) was just part of youth, I thought; but maybe it sneaks back in whenever you feel yourself edging off the rails. Anyway, I have an oral exam in nine days and I’m not looking for alternatives, because no matter where you end up you can’t skirt the baselines of survival and duty. After the apple I was still hungry, so I had to go home and make another sandwich.


Aaron blogs from Tanzania!

The German kept noting how identical everything looked to the things she had seen in in Georgia (the former Soviet republic), and I suppose, in a sense, the absence of things Western does tend to look similar, but if Zanzibar resembles Georgia more than superficially, I’ll cross the ocean and count all the cats in it. It was of course not even ironic that the two were analysts for, respectively, the World Bank and the IMF.



I didn’t know what to do with the Vox blog, so I turned it into a reading diary. Not orals reading (that’s over here and I am almost quit of it, thank Christ), but general reading with an eye to the state of my soul.

Because Google has learned to associate this subdomain with my real name (cursèd Google), I had to put in a 301 redirect that will take people referred here by searches for my surname and will boot them over the public site. I take it this concerns none of you. End of administrative bulletin.


It is a long novel, and I was long in writing it; I remember being again much occupied with it, the following year, during a stay of several weeks made in Venice. I had rooms on Riva Schiavoni, at the top of a house near the passage leading off to San Zaccaria; the waterside life, the wondrous lagoon spread before me, and the ceaseless human chatter of Venice came in at my windows, to which I seem to myself to have been constantly driven, in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if to see whether, out in the blue channel, the ship of some right suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my subject, the next true touch for my canvas, mightn’t come into sight. But I recall vividly enough that the response most elicited, in general, to these restless appeals was the rather grim admonition that romantic and historic sites, such as the land of Italy abounds in, offer the artist a questionable aid to concentration when they themselves are not to be the subject of it. They are too rich in their own life and too charged with their own meanings merely to help him out with a lame phrase; they draw him away from his small question to their own greater ones; so that, after a little, he feels, while thus yearning toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of glorious veterans to help him to arrest a peddler who has given him the wrong change.

—Henry James, preface to Portrait of a Lady


Stepped onto the back porch at nine this morning (would have been eight without the surprise time shift) just long enough to check the good tidings of the air, the promise of the slanted sun that today would be another excellent day to spend in a park. Or a "grove"—I just discovered a fine grove, with a sign identifying it as a grove, on campus behind the humanities center.

I ran into one of those numerical scales on which you’re supposed to plot your life in order to measure your present happiness, and I realized that I can’t remember the last time I had to drag myself to the couch and lie there feeling sorry for myself. Up through 2004 that was happening all the time.


Wole Soyinka's Bacchae is a marvel: I could call it utterly transparent or describe it as supersaturated with color; either way, it’s scrupulously faithful in its own manner. I’m surprised it hasn’t been more visible as a model for later work—it certainly gave me ideas.

Family stopped by outbound and inbound from Hawaii. They say Hawaii is nice.

Melodrama is not equivalent to crudity—that’s one thing I’ve had to unlearn. They can’t all be well-wrought urns. I don’t want to lie about enjoying Die Räuber (though never was anything so obviously written by a precocious nineteen-year-old) or the serialized nineteenth-century slabs (though they begin with no knowledge of their endings); they have life. It’s so easy to switch off the life. From sheer self-consciousness.

One of the more entertaining pieces of advice I heard in workshops was to try stripping off the carefully orchestrated openings and beautifully sealed up endings so as to let the tubby living middle breathe freely.


Via an interview at Chapati Mystery: Boris Vladimirski, painter of Roses for Stalin and Black Ravens.


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