Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Set your affection on things above.

On the trees, their leaves a-twist with new fire, for instance.

For the first quarter-century of my life, my mother wore the same small gold heart-shaped locket all the time, even while she slept. When I was very little, I asked her where she'd gotten it. "Someone gave it to me long ago," she said, "when he couldn't really afford it, and that made it all the more special for me." (I found it heartwrenching when the locket--already soldered back together once--broke beyond repair.)

This afternoon's post brought me a new necklace from that wise woman of life coaching and jewelry design, Andrea Scher of
Superhero Designs, who has just added a sterling silver bullseye pendant to her product line. The back of the pendant reads "superhero." That the person who sent it to me did, despite the many heavy things weighing on her, makes it all the more special to me.

Spring is messy right now--a riot of color and weather, baby ducks and goslings starting to pop up everywhere, sun and rain hitting us all at the same time. Some things are in focus, some things not. At its best, it's beautiful. At its worst, it's beautiful, too, but harder to deal with.

A somewhat promising horoscope for today:
Write down anything you can remember from your dreams tonight--they are much more vivid than usual and may offer clues to what lies ahead. They probably won't be too explicit--they rarely are!
Heh--stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Strange of beak.

What, I ask you, is going on with the beak on the drake bringing up the rear here? These mallards (sans their usual female companion) were out wandering about this morning, despite our distance from any water besides the copious amounts that fell from the sky today. I peered under the climbing vines and the shrubs outside my patio, trying to locate their mate and the ducklings I imagine she's incubating somewhere, but all I saw were these two increasingly annoyed and suspicious drakes.

Get a closer look at his beak (not to mention his annoyance):

After a downright silly number of colloquia and lectures today, I'm afraid that's all I've got that's of wider interest than the bounds of my own skull. As always, I have higher hopes for tomorrow.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Springtime in England.

The signs: bluebells abloom everywhere; another day of brilliant sun followed by torrential rain and hailstorms; so much energy in me that when I got home from the treadmill and the pool and found a message from a friend asking whether I wanted to go for a walk, I called her right away and off we went. I pick and piece, pick and piece. I write my conceptualizations in colored markers and watch Pushing Daisies for breaks. At 9 p.m., the horizon is still lightly gilded. The sun wakes me up early every morning.

My neighbor, returned from a jaunt in the U.S., reports that his three-year-old niece spent significant portions of his visit pretending to be me, having only heard my name and that I'm his friend in Cambridge. "She was extremely happy being you," he says. "Well, I'm extremely happy being me," I reply, "so I don't find that surprising. I mean, really, I think that she chose well." "Yes," he says, "she has excellent taste."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday on the phone.

My best laid plans went out the window when the phone rang yesterday afternoon: my father, calling to talk. And talk we did, for nearly four hours. What a deep blessing to be able to say out loud, "You're the best man I've ever known," and to have him reply that he hopes that sometime soon I'll meet someone who will best him for that title and be a partner for life. Intercut that kind of love with transatlantic eBay browsing and in-depth discussions of Questar telescopes and insightful conversation about work lives, and you've got a damned fine afternoon.

At the end of the call, I read him my horoscope for yesterday:
You may be moving too quickly into this relationship or career path--slow things down a bit and see what happens. If you're still fired up after some time has passed, then go right ahead at full speed!
which I took as yet more sanction of the way I spent my afternoon.

And now I am officially declaring it: Some Time has passed, and I am still Fired Up. Must be not only the project but also all this walking and swimming. Not to mention the £5 free trade cotton t-shirts I found at Marks & Spencer today.

Tomorrow, right ahead at full speed!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Psyching myself up.

In February, I set myself a challenge: could I write a freestanding article about a work I really loved, send it to some friends, revise it as best I could, and then send it out to a journal? And could I do it in two weeks? (To understand this, you have to know that my neighbor had just busted out a 37-page piece in the space of about a week, and I was feeling a little competitive, not to mention curious about my own abilities.)

The two-week part turned out to be crazy (as everyone watching must already have known). But I did research and write that article, and I did send it out, revise it, and submit it. Next Saturday, it will have been out for a month, which in academia means that I've got anywhere from two to five months to wait for news--if the journal is a responsible one. If it's not, then in about five months I'll be writing to ask what the hell is going on. (But more deferentially.)

The weird thing was that once the article was done, other potential essays on related works began to emerge. (I'm sorry to be cagey about this, again; I can tell you about the project in detail if you contact me in the real world, but I don't feel good about discussing it specifically here.) And so I've set myself something of another challenge: can I research and write a book that I think is timely, as opposed to an historical work that maybe fifteen people will ever read?

Strangely enough, as I did the background reading for what will probably be the first body chapter of this project, I found myself feeling more and more ready to write an introduction in which I'd state some theoretical principles and survey the field into which I'm inserting myself--or, to be more accurate, the field in which I've been working for years and years but in which I'm now examining a different acre.

And today I find myself having a very familiar feeling: knowing that I have all the materials together for a piece of writing I need to do, but not wanting to write it. Wanting to do anything (intellectually speaking) but write it.
Plus, the weather has suddenly gotten warm enough here that I have my kitchen windows and balcony door open and have been able to don my Moosewood t-shirt and my silver Birks (without socks!). So you know I want to go outside and endanger my skin for the first time this season.

But instead, with my belly full of omelet and avocado, I! will! write! Or, at the very least, assemble this week's worth of notes and thinking (which currently includes things like a list of crucial noun concepts: identification, projection, animation, performance, translation, relation, interpretation) and get ready for a week of busting out some prose.

Maybe I'll set up another challenge: can I write a book sitting outside in the sun? Maybe by the time the sun comes west enough to wrest my balcony out of shadow, I'll have decided. But actually I know: often, I'd rather be inside, but near an open window or door, than outside. Maybe I'm secretly a threshold person. And so I suspect that I will stay here at my desk, facing out my window, with breeze and birdsong coming through, for the better part of the afternoon.

And anyhow: my Canadian friend has just come by to report that in town, amateur punters are running into each other on the Cam--so good fun awaits me as a reward for industry.

Friday, April 25, 2008

What it's like here.

On my way to the concert last night, I stopped to photograph lots of buildings head-on. When I stopped to shoot one of the half-timbered buildings of Bridge Street, I was momentarily almost disappointed to have captured a bus--but once I saw them at home, I was glad of it. I took these two photographs in the same spot, two seconds apart, in this order.

This time last year, I was already starting to think about the things I would miss about mid-Ohio while I lived here. Now I find myself starting to think about the things I will miss about Cambridge.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Having been given a fig.

Tonight I walked to my first chamber music concert of the term (the University just started up again this week), and not only was it still light out but the sun was even up for my whole walk. Now the sun sets after 8 p.m. I was especially grateful for the light when, after a walk punctuated by picture-taking, I walked up to the concert venue and discovered that the tree outside its main door would seem, unless I am much mistaken, to be a fig. I thought immediately of MG's comment on yesterday's writing: the bodhi tree was a fig. And even though this one isn't quite the right kind (not a sacred fig, that is), it still figured for me as yet another revalidation in a day full of them, due in no small part to you all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chance graces.

We weren't even finished with our first course at dinner tonight before one of my good friends here had, after several months' rest, taken up the question of why and how I should be working my way toward marriage right now. It's an old conversation between us; we've been having it, sometimes with quite outlandish embellishments, since at least December. It's possible that tonight was the first time that she's come out and told me that I'm just plain wrong in my perspective on my own life.
It's kind of a shocking thing, to be told, by someone you like, that you're wrong. A strong sense of my self-delusion creeps into some space behind her eyes when she gets onto this subject with me; I can see her thinking that I'm fooling myself with my talk of being really, deeply, fundamentally satisfied with my life the bulk of the time.

Ever the teacher, tonight I tried again to explain to her why I'm not going to do anything compromising in order to guilt someone into wanting to be with me. What? No one's suggested this kind of thing to me...ever, really. Ever. What's always fascinating to me about these conversations, when I remember to step back and watch them happening (in a kind of out-of-body experience), is that they're really
about a change in generation. For me, it's actually possible (though not in every way desirable) to imagine a life without a spouse, without a family of my own. If you've been reading me long enough, you know my take on these issues; I hope I don't flatter myself when I say that I think it's pretty nuanced and well-conceived. For her, a person's claim that s/he can have a whole life without a partner sounds like nothing more than, again, self-delusion--even though she talks (and means) a big feminist talk, and even though she is obviously, audibly proud of my strength and independence. "Don't you want someone to share your happiness with?" the person sitting next to me asked, trying to find a way to mediate between the two of us. "I have lots of people to share my happiness with," I replied. "Just because they're not my spouse doesn't mean that I'm all alone in the world."

The whole thing started taking on these strange funhouse-mirror dimensions and contours. Suddenly it was as though the first four months of this year, with all their very particular hopes and betrayals and inexplicabilities, had never happened, even though this friend and I have dissected them together in many sharp ways. She knows, for instance, that I've now decided that I'm too old to waste time with people who don't have their own shit together. I've got my shit together, and I've worked hard for that. Why should I waste my time trying to get other people's shit together? Yet somehow, over dinner, we seemed to have regressed to "he's a keeper" talk. To the talk of desperation, in other words. There was some mighty projection going on at our table all of a sudden.

And then, somehow with only a couple of seconds' worth of intervening conversation, a visitor from Japan told us that his new daughter's name is Sarah (though I suspect that the spelling is different), and that he and his wife chose her name because of its old, old Sanskrit meaning. Roughly, he told us that in Chinese (and leave it to formal dinner to ensure that one comes away with only half the specifics of any story--so that I wonder, did he say Chinese? did he say Japanese?) Sarah means that a person will never become ill, because the Buddha always sat under a tree named (in Sanskrit) Sarah when he spoke, and from there, the name developed to what it is today.

I have no real way of checking up on this story, and no real interest in checking up. What I know is that the idea of my name's having something to do with an overspreading tree under which deep teachings were made--well, that idea came just in time during tonight's dinner. I know what I'm about. I know how, as I advise my students whenever I can, to take myself seriously--as
my self, my self of integrity, but also as the self that nurtures others.

I suppose that next time I should just say, "Oh, for God's sake, stop it." If I could learn how to say those six words with conviction, I suspect that a lot of the small amount of nonsense in my life would clear away.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Water baby.

My college is one of the only ones in Cambridge (or so I have been told) with an indoor pool. Somehow, I have made it to this point in the year without having tried out the pool.

Or at least that's what I said this morning. But this afternoon, having taken little steps toward the goal of being in the pool before the end of this month, I put on my bathing suit, put some clothes over it, and walked up the road to the pool. The weather was warm enough here today that it didn't chill me to the bone even to contemplate immersing myself in water, and so it was with no trepidation that I walked down the little steps of our funny little pool. It's big enough to do laps in, but they're very short laps. And there are no marks painted on the walls so that you can see when you're almost at one end of the pool. For a severely myopic person, this problem ranks somewhere between hilariously funny and not really very safe. Fortunately I was swimming freestyle and had an arm out when I made contact with the invisible wall.

The best bit was making contact with decades' worth of bodily knowledge that I have allowed to lie quiet (resting, let's say) since college. I have never been a particularly graceful person on land, but in the water I've always felt like another body altogether. When I was much less severely myopic, something about being in the water with my goggles actually seemed to correct my vision enough that I could see almost normally. Today I wasn't able to do anything like the things I could when I was at my strongest. But getting to stroke and drift and float and slip through a sunlit piece of water was exactly what I required. I'm aiming for a new habit--so that when I get home, I make myself stop missing out on our gargantuan (but comparatively cold, I don't doubt) pool.

You will swim through this weather, I tell myself in a little song, and when you return you will swim through that weather, and it will be that weather bound with this weather, this sun flown to that one, all cradled and caught back in the smacking splashing sweep of your stretching arm.

It's been a long time since I made my heart beat faster.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Flame on.

For some among you, that title may bring the Beastie Boys to mind. If so, I salute you.

No news yet on when the part of my brain that takes care of the Cabinet will be returned.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

And again with the hectic.

It was a little calmer today, but still I have every corner of a project in my mind all at the same time. Which does not make for forward motion. I am, that is to say, in the part of the process that feels like being one of those awesome toy cars with a friction motor, and having that motor getting revved up and up and up. Pretty soon the big hand that's doing the revving is going to let me go--and then I'll be off, like a shot.

A tiny person I know (but whom you do not) took her first steps yesterday--at a Passover seder, of all places. That's a girl who knows her moment.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Faster, faster.

If I sat up all night for the next thirty years, I couldn't get through everything I want to read and write. One would think that by now, I'd have learned what to do with this emotional cocktail of desire and despair: There is so much to do. There will never be enough time.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Look, I've never been a big Rolling Stones fan; I've never had many feelings about them one way or another. And I know that Shine a Light has gotten at least a few rough reviews, as well as some condescending responses ("They're the best looking sixty-something act out there"). But I thought the film kicked some ass, particularly when it came to showcasing (both in front of and behind the cameras) just how much power a group of creative people can generate while they do their thing together. What I saw was a group of four guys who've been together so long that each of them knows all the others' moves, and knows intimately and lovingly the texture and the detail of his part of their stage show. (There's a great moment early on when Keith Richards shows Martin Scorsese how cool the kick-pedal of Charlie Watts's bass drum looks during performances. "I'm the only one who ever sees this shit!" he cries.) This familiarity makes the whole show the farthest thing from tired, though; instead, everybody seems to be at his ease and overjoyed just to be there. It felt to me as though affection were everywhere in this film: between bandmates, between performers and audience, betwen performers and instruments, even (though more rarely, because for the most part the performers seem to have been able to ignore the bazillion cameras involved) between performers and camera.

What I couldn't see--but could see all the products of--was all the intricate choreography and bodily knowledge required to get all the raw material that the film's all-star team of camera operators (a slate of cinematographers who are famed Directors of Photography in their own right--people like Stuart Dryburgh, for God's sake--all working under the leadership of Robert Richardson) shot. Not to mention the intuition it took to make all of that raw material into the series of portraits and performances that the film is, at bottom. So yeah, okay, it's a little bit weird to watch Mick Jagger dancing with Christina Aguilera, and the lyrics to "Brown Sugar" get even more uncomfortable every time I hear them. But the film remains one to be seen and heard. It's no Son of Rambow, but it is a pretty awesome testimony to the power of figuring out what you love, doing it stubbornly, and getting very lucky, particularly where one's health is concerned.

If any of us had had any guts in my theatre, we would have gotten up and danced along. The great thing about Mick Jagger's particular way of flail-dancing is that it reminds you that you don't have to be particularly graceful in order to rock out all the way.

Yeah, tonight's tulips have nothing to do with anything--and they're several days old, to boot. Enjoy them anyway. My head's pretty full right now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Now, about that trip to London.

One of the great things about Tuesday's trip was that it required me to get up very early (ca. 4:45 a.m.) and thus to experience all those hours when I'm normally still asleep. The sun comes up at about 6:10 a.m. now--who knew? And at 5:30, the birds have the colleges all to themselves: blackbirds perch atop scaffoldings and rooftops and chimneypots, each calling to another, trilling and burbling. Ducks furrow smooth water under the bridges, tracing light ripples as they go. Doves tuck and huddle; geese croak quietly.

My hand was not steady enough to capture the dawn from the bridge.

By the time we reached London around 8, I was wide awake again and well able to watch the city as we passed through it. The train is a faster way to get into the city, and it affords a better view of the countryside, but its endgame isn't as interesting. The bus is a shorter walk from my college but is itself subject to bad traffic (everywhere) and takes longer even under the best circumstances. But there's a lot more time to see a lot more of London--in both its iconic and rundown varieties--in the last hour of the trip. (Plus, as it turned out, my bus's window created some awesome and unanticipated vignetting for me. Score!) After a little while, I realized I was shooting just to see what kinds of color and shape combinations I could get, in some kind of weird urban abstract snapshooting.

I had a good clean hour after arriving at Victoria, so I sought out the warmest coffee bar I could find and had a good bowl of cappuccino while I worked on finishing an installment of Barnaby Rudge. And then it was time for the book fair.

Now, I thought that the London Book Fair would be something akin to the Academic Mayhem's book hall, where every academic publisher who can afford it sets up a booth and hawks its wares, new and old. Whatever is about to come out is in its publisher's booth; if the book itself isn't quite ready but is hotly anticipated, a publisher will bring galley proofs or bound proofs, and/or a cover mock-up--whatever can be mustered to get people even more excited about some book that's about to drop. And most of the time--except when weird interstate tax laws get in the way--publishers are selling what they've got on display.

The London Book Fair is like the Academic Mayhem's book hall in a few respects: every publisher who can afford it has a presence on the floor there, and the more grand the publisher, the larger the space its team will have commandeered. There are some current and forthcoming titles on display. There are some publishers' catalogs lying around. But at the London Book Fair, everything is about a whole different kind of selling. It's not about trying to get people to buy the books that are already out. It's about trying to get a publisher to buy your client's manuscript, or trying to get a studio to get interested in filming your press's novel, or trying to get someone from another country to buy the international rights to something you've released. It's about books not as finished things but as things-in-the-making--things about to be made, things about to be re-made. Booths are centered not on the books themselves but on café-style tables with two or three or four chairs drawn up around them--countless little meeting spaces where people do countless deals.

I think that the friend of a friend who hooked me up with a badge so that I could attend the Book Fair was a little bemused by my excitement to be there. When I saw her again yesterday, back on my home turf (since she's visiting our mutual friend), she apologized profusely for having abandoned me to the wilds of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, both of whose buildings were teeming with publishers of every kind of book, from every kind of country, in every kind of language. I assured her that it hadn't been any kind of problem: I wanted to see what it was like, and I saw what it was like, and it was eye-opening in the best of ways. I'm no naïf when it comes to thinking about books: I know that they're commodities, marketable things, just as much as they are works of art. I know that most written works from any given historical moment simply won't survive; they're culturally and historically expendable. Some people make their livings writing them; some people make their livings selling them; some people spend their earnings getting them; and lots of these people, at each stage of the process, get a lot of pleasure out of making and consuming them. To say it that way boils books down to a business, barely letting you glimpse how much life is bound up in every one of those stages. And that life in books (or in one subset of them, anyway) is what I love.

Still, it has to be said that I felt--because I was--pretty marginal in this big place. There wasn't any space for an agent-less, manuscript-less academic and writer. And that was okay, ultimately: I walked and lingered when I could and listened to what I could hear. I glimpsed some pitches being made; I heard people proclaiming the gorgeousness of their clients' sentences; I watched a guy writing the next chapter of his novel (or so I imagined, anyway) in the second story seating area of one of the venue's food vendors. I attended a seminar wherein we were all exhorted to exploit the medium of the graphic novel more than we have to date.

I saw the other side of the business in which I make my living, in other words. It was the farthest thing from a wasted day--even if there weren't any books for me to buy there. (Marilynne Robinson has a new book coming out in September, by the way!)

With every day that passes, I grow more certain that I'm launching a new book project. I didn't see this coming. Right now, I think it's still a scholarly book--but who knows. I'm following along; the path is starting to look pretty good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some days.

Some days you just hand over to Charles Dickens. You get up in the morning and say, "Mr. Dickens, I'll be spending today with only you. I won't leave the house until the day is over and we've spent it together." These kinds of days are no more than he's due, after all. Holy cow, what a writer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Say no more.

You know my heart almost exploded when I walked out of the Earls Court tube stop and saw this. What happened next was a little more complicated (though that makes it sound dramatic, which it wasn't). But I couldn't have asked for a better initial impression.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Just maybe.

One evening, you might be planning to do some reading and writing, to go to bed at something like your normal bedtime. And then, after dinner, you might learn that for some reason your trainfare to London for the trip you need to take in the morning seems to have gone up £11, and so you might decide that you can handle an extra two hours of travel time if it will save you £18 total, and so you might book a coach ticket instead of a train ticket. But that might mean that you'll need to be on the first coach of the day at, oh, 6 a.m. Which will definitely mean that you'll describe Ely Cathedral's Lady Chapel tomorrow, or later. Certainly not now, when you should already be asleep if you have any hope of being even slightly well-rested when you arrive at a major publishing extravaganza in the morning. You've almost backed out of this trip several times, yet you've stayed with it because it's so scary that it must be the right thing to do--and because you know, deep down, that not a single thing in the world moves you as much as a huge convention hall full of books and the people who live them. Because you? If you were to put a drop of your own blood under a microscope, you know you'd find not only semi-colons but em-dashes and ellipses and ampersands there as well.

And so you'll post your fen pictures--such wide wet green flatness must be seen to be believed--with a promise, as ever, of more to come later. And then you'll levitate off to sleep.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Third day of debauchery.

For my actual birthday, I had a kind of debauch of quiet: once I'd come back from a lunch with friends, in the next village over, I still had time to disappear by myself to Ely (the eely place) for evensong in the cathedral. It's a building that stops me in my tracks more and more, the more I visit it. If things go according to my current plan, I'll tell you more stories about Ely Cathedral tomorrow.

For now: on the way to the train station, I saw my first ducklings of the year. In Ely, at one of my favorite bookstores (which happens, somehow, to have ended up on the High Street of that little town), I ended up buying the Routledge edition of Hans Christian Andersen's
Stories and Tales, the edition with the rubber duckie on the cover. It wasn't until the end of the evening--long after my slice of lemon tart with the carmelized top and the spidery splotches of coulis, long after my slices of toast with chocolate spread on them, long after I saw the eel hive near the cathedral and the eel statue in the park, long after my Skype dates and my phone calls with loved ones--that I realized the coincidence. The awful joke begs to be made: it was, in the end, a perfectly ducky day.

And now I am in my next year--and, for yet another year, have been shown into the new one by some truly generous and loving gestures, for which I am grateful beyond anything I can say here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Second day of debauchery.

On day two of my debauch, I read nearly all day, then went to a concert where something was fatally wrong between the first violins--and yet the Schubert was still divine, as Schubert simply is. And then sticky toffee pudding, sitting in a half-inch-deep pool of a sticky warm sauce that was good enough to make me want to eat it all with my spoon, long after the pudding itself was gone. And now, I will proceed to bed down with my book. Dickens or Díaz? I ask myself. Díaz or Dickens?

The brilliant thing is, I can't go wrong either way.

Thirty-two years ago, I was being a big pain for my mother. I'm glad that she's always let me know it was worth it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

First day of debauchery.

In 2001, a friend of mine turned 28. We all missed her birthday because it landed on 11 September. And so the next year, we had two parties for her. The year after that, when she turned 30, we had three parties for her. By that time, I was living elsewhere and only made it to two of the parties. But the dance party that was her week's culmination was truly one of the greatest parties I've ever attended. She was radiant in bat wings and a dress she'd wrested from the wreckage of my move out of Ithaca. I was as skinny as I've ever been, all muscle and bone and fast, taut worry.

This year, I am neither muscle nor bone nor worry; I am steady and solid and serene, as well I should be after all this time. And this year, I am giving myself at least three days of debauchery to celebrate my birthday. (And how excellent: two people--one in person, one by e-mail--have said to me today, "Only three more days!" And my parents' card arrived in the post this morning, also excellent.) Of course, my variety of debauchery is, as you might imagine, going to be a little off-center. But here: here is how I celebrate.

On my way home from piano this afternoon, I thought long and hard about whether to stop in at a local seafood restaurant that does moules et frites all day for £11. Because I've been here for awhile, $22 for lunch seems like a right bargain. But then I challenged myself to think more carefully about the afternoon I wanted, and I decided instead to go to Fitzbillies bakery for some kind of small cake and then to stop at the Marks and Spencer food hall for a small bottle of white wine and a package of smoked salmon.

With all of my purchases in tow, I made my way home past the Caius sundials

and through Clare, whose garden has now become an essential part of my day.

I greeted Barbara Hepworth and told her that I hope she wasn't too unhappy, or that at least her art now seems worth the unhappiness. I came home and chucked the tiny bottle of wine in the freezer to re-cool it, and I got to work on my lunch.

About fifteen minutes later, I was sitting down with a three-egg omelette full of French chevre, avocado (unfortunately, a bit unripe), and smoked salmon, and my glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc. I ate and watched last night's Daily Show online. The weather, having its own debauchery today, cycled through sun, rain, hail, sun and hail, rain, and sun again.

And then I turned to the cake, which I am still eating, bit by bit. (That's right! I'm live-blogging my own pre-birthday debauchery.) It seems to have been salted lightly across its top--and I'll tell you, that's the way to make a chocolate cake.

It's seeming just incredibly possible that as soon as I've eaten my cake, I'll wander out into town, light-headed on wine and protein and sugar all at the same time, and see what more there is to see today. Perhaps I'll even take Barnaby Rudge with me--because though I've already read my day's quota of Dickens, birthday debauchery means nothing if it doesn't mean never having to say, "Enough!" There's a moment in every Dickens novel when you feel that you've met everyone there is to meet, that you know their quirks and tics, and that the business of plot and event is about to begin. I've reached that point. Now I want to know what's going to happen next--because somehow, in the next 400 pages, someone's going to start a riot and storm a prison, and right now none of that is particularly visible.

So, to sum up: Dickens, Bach, a bakery, sauvignon blanc and salmon, three eggs cooked in slightly salted butter and filled with decadence, Jon Stewart, miniature chocolate torte, sun, Dickens. Just for today, the good life doesn't have to include a lot of examination to be worth living.

I may be on the brink of buying myself a Pulitzer-winner, though what I really want is to feast on some early Kandinsky.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And then one day.

As I walked home after seeing Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky (followed by an hour's Q&A session with Leigh himself!), I realized: some particular angers and indignations are not worth my time. I saw men painting the ceilings of the vestibules at Boots the Chemist. I heard a North American saying of the Trailer of Life, "That stuff tastes so good." (Have I told you about the Trailer of Life? It is the food truck at the north side of the market square; the Night Life Van is the food truck at the south side.) I saw a punt slipping quietly through the dark water, while I paused at the top of the public bridge to say goodbye to Orion until fall, just in case I don't see him again; he is so low in the sky even at 9 p.m.

Not a single thing I can say about my day is half as important as this robin who was perched and singing just inside the gate into the wooded bit of Clare's fellows' garden this afternoon. Here's what's important, right here, all the things about the world that are summed up in that millimeter of space you can see in that open beak.

Somehow, people have always led me to believe that Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge is not a very good novel. Why did I listen? It's terrific, in all senses of the world--by which I mean to say, if you read it, and if you let it get to you, it will start to terrify you, bit by bit.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Yes, please.

My horoscope for today:
You are full of great ideas and a few of them--the few that nobody else has dreamed up yet--will take off and develop lives of their own. You should nurture them for now, then let go.
After an afternoon spent ferreting out new knowledge in the majestically utilitarian University Library, this prediction and recommendation sound just about right.

Oh, and oh my: R.E.M. always used to be in the business of setting truth to an awesome soundtrack, but they and I parted waves in a dorm room back in 1993; very little of what they've put out in the past (gulp) fifteen years has done much to thrill even the rock 'n roll part of my soul (which, to be sure, is a pretty big part of my soul). But dude, I think (and yes, I know I'm not the first person to make it to this realization) they might be back.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And yet more.

These days I don't go to town without walking through Clare's Fellows' Garden. It doesn't make sense to take the less scenic route, not to go padding silently over those perfect lawns.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I stood beneath this tree's whispering and tried to count the number of its whites: where they blush rose, where they glow blue under the still-bright evening sky, where they grey against the chapel's stone, where they green between stem and stamen. The air smelled like sweet quiet, solitude's soft welcome, and so I stood longer and longer, stiller and stiller.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Still life with fruit.

I have been known to buy things from the fruitsellers just to be able to photograph their other wares, but yesterday I actually did need pie apples. It was only while I paid for them that I saw all these reds and oranges, all this roundness, all this taut gloss.

After nearly two months of mostly springtime weather, we have snow in our forecast for the next few days. It's a second stage of spring, I suppose--the stage where the bloom is off and the next round of hard work begins.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Eggs and lessons.

In this dream, I am on a different fantasy campus than usual. I am teaching a class of students how to do things with eggs. We have planned to learn to make omelettes, but we have run out of time. I take a dozen nearly hard-boiled eggs with me, promising the class to bring them back the next day so that we can continue our work.

On my long walk home, which will take me through some of my home fields, I remember that I have told someone I might stop in at a holiday celebration he and his family are having. They are Jewish; they have had the holiday off; it seems possible that I, too, am supposed to have had the holiday off, or did have the holiday off, and that the egg lesson was actually on the previous day. His whole family is there, as is his new partner. Sometimes he speaks French. Sometimes others reply in French. They have obviously been celebrating pleasantly all day: in a strange and partly empty student building, they have been sitting in a largely bare student lounge with no-pile green carpeting, eating and speaking French and celebrating.

At some point, I go elsewhere; there is only so much one can say in such a situation. Someone--a father? a brother?--attached to this group cooks up an omelette packed full with cheese and mushrooms. It fairly glows, sunny yellowy gold, on his plate as he lets the cheese melt. We chat while he works (we are now in a kitchen on the ground floor of this building where the others are still together), and I realize that my dozen nearly hard-boiled eggs are hardly fit materials for continuing to make omelettes in twelve hours' time, but I continue going through some motions of planning to cook them. I will not eat a hard-boiled egg. All these eggs will go to waste.

I decide to change out of my skirt into a pair of jeans. Suddenly the air is charged with skepticism and with danger--with incipient transgression. "Where will you change?" the father/brother relative asks, as I walk to the stairs. Sure enough, when I reach the top of the stairs, I encounter the person I know best of this group; his partner seems to have disappeared. I go seeking a space where I can change. Somehow, he is there again and again. Finally, he embraces me, all in a barely spoken sadness. Everything is confusion: I don't know how to turn; I don't know where to change.

And yet he and his family show the way: soon, they have all departed for wherever it is they are going next. When they go, my whole landscape, all its contours and structures, resettles into things not known but readily discernible, and it is, quite simply, better.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Oh, Son of Rambow.

When this movie comes to a theatre near you, probably sometime in the next month or two, go to see it. Don't wait. I wouldn't tell you to go if it weren't fantastic. And it's not just funny and touching and surprising, with a great soundtrack. It's also beautifully shot, full of great color work and terrifically composed images.

Now that I'm home, I realize that it's the movie I really wanted Napoleon Dynamite to be: it's full of raucously hilarious moments, but it's also much more than an accumulation of such moments.

So, to review: make sure you see this one. Trust me.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

This day.

I do not like to reread my own critical writing. I have known this fact about myself for quite a long time. In fact, one thing that surprised me when I started writing here was that I so enjoyed rereading and tinkering with my posts all day (something that those of you who read me through Bloglines may notice; as I understand, it alerts you when something new happens, even if it's not something worth noting at all). A few weeks ago, as you know, I finished writing an essay (about which I didn't really tell you anything, largely because I like this one's topic enough not to want to have it scooped), and since then, I've gotten word back from friends and readers, saying that it's all but ready to go way beyond me, out to the big big world of journals and anonymous readers. I have Aspirations for this one, will send it all the way to the top, just to see what happens.

But first I have to perform some small revisions.

And it took me until yesterday to stop puttering around vaguely, in the vicinity of the essay's hard copy, and actually reread the thing. For at least a week, I've been writing daily in my midday journal about how I hope to finish the revisions in the next couple of days. Those "next couple" keep being days and days later than I originally intended. I've reread that whole incredibly difficult and enigmatic Carlyle book just to avoid rereading my own work, and what I've written (and the tasks I've got before me) are really kind of nothing beside Carlyle's involutions.

I chalk it all up to vestiges of that old, dear fear--that sweet, sad dog, as one of you called it back in October when I tried to dump it mercilessly (and mostly succeeded!)--that when I look at my own work, I'll find that it's awful.


After my haircut yesterday, I came home and sat at my desk, where I'd left the print-out and my latest written assurance to myself that I would reread it, and that it would prove not to be a disaster. I frittered for about 45 minutes, doing something I don't even recall. I almost decided that since I had only about two hours before formal hall, I'd finish reading another of the books I'm clearing off my "things I'm reading" lists, which have (in my distraction and avoidance of the essay) grown mightily in the last few weeks, even (as you may have noticed) spawning a new "back burner" list--things I've begun but restlessly put aside, books on walking and on language and on exploration. Somehow I stayed at the desk. Somehow I picked up my Fineliner and started reading my own first paragraph. Somehow reading the first paragraph got me to reading page 10 before I noticed that I'd stuck with it. And somehow I'd finished rereading it within about an hour, just as I'd told myself (before the haircut) that I would. Somehow I even had time to pop into a second bath for the day, to read some more of the book I'd planned to read instead of reading my own work, to remove more unnecessary hair from my body, and to kit myself up in fine fashion for dinner, all in plenty of time to make it to my dear friends' flat for some pre-dinner companionship.

The more I do these things, the more I know that they can be done.

I'm writing early today because I've just seen that the weather forecast has us reaching into the 60s for the first time this spring, sometime this afternoon, and that has resolved me: I am going to have a shower, have a bowl of cereal, and then have a crack at putting my revision notes into practice. With some diligence and a little bit of writer's luck, I think that I can finish what I want to do while it's still early in the afternoon.

And then, I think, I'll stroll out with some book or another under my arm, cash in my Caffe Nero loyalty card for a free cappuccino to go, take it to one of the less monitored of the fellows' gardens, and perch on a bench in the sun. With any luck, this time I won't even see anyone I know making out with someone else.

Reading Sara Fanelli's fantastic new(ish) book, Sometimes I Think, Sometimes I Am, which unfortunately seems not to be available in the U.S., I discovered a Thoreau quote that I might have known before but that I'd definitely forgotten. Thoreau was a great source of aphorisms that have come way out of context, showing up on t-shirts and greeting cards and bumper stickers everywhere. To my mind, this kind of dispersal doesn't mean that he's not worth listening to (which, in turn, doesn't mean that he shouldn't be argued with). "The price of anything," he says in this quote whose source I can't find yet, "is the amount of life you exchange for it." Both of late and in the farther-back, I've exchanged more of my life than I'd like to think about on people and things eminently not worth that much. One corrects such things one moment at a time. Moments become hours; hours become days; days become weeks. Time is its own currency; sometimes I forget.

Tiny birds--blue tits, mostly--peep about in the silver birches outside; the birches are getting their leaves, all of a sudden, so now their catkins and their leafbuds fringe hot green together. All along the river, the willows are new-green, thirsty ripening green.

There's growth everywhere, is what I'm saying, and where there's not yet growth, there's preparation for growth. And so it is that pollarding comes to look like a more fertile figure than I'd have guessed it might be, even two days ago.

* * *

And now, twelve hours later (at 11:07 p.m.), the article is in where it's going. Not "all the way up" after all; at lunch, I remembered how much I dislike that journal anyway. Why would I send my stuff somewhere I don't like? I sent it somewhere else instead. Now we'll see what happens--probably in several months. What's important is that it's now off my hands for awhile, leaving said hands open for further typing on further projects. But I think it must be said: I'm feeling a little sour in the mouth and generally freaked out right now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lady in red.

Yesterday, when I first emerged from the Tube, I found myself behind a woman dressed all in red. I noticed her hair first, but as I walked along behind her, I realized that everything about her was some shade or hue of red, except for her yellow backpack. Because I was behind her, I took her picture.

Only this evening did I realize that I actually managed to get a picture of her from the front, as well--a good 10 or 15 minutes later, when I turned around on the south end of the Millennium Bridge and took the picture of St. Paul's that half the people coming off of that bridge take. (And who wouldn't? The bridge was designed to create this view.) There she is, off on the right.

See her?

I realize that this post will make everyone hope never to be near me on city streets. But seriously, I wouldn't have put up the pictures at all but for the fact that her overall look was so bold and good, right down to her black and red striped hand-warmer no-finger gloves--and it's so funny to me that I was completely oblivious to her once I'd taken her picture and passed her by, way back on the other side of St. Paul's.

Once again, my head has been cleared of unnecessary outgrowths and seems all the happier for it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Out in the morning, back late at night: this is a good, good way to visit London, and one that's only possible because I am so close to the city. Today was a museum day. You'll hear more about it. But for now I'm exhausted. And though that picture makes it look a little grim, London was actually sunny and perfect today. (Also, that picture wouldn't have those darned reflections were passengers on the Tate Boat allowed to leave their extra-comfortable seats and go outside. There's no deck on the Tate Boat.)

Something seems to have gone wrong with the plane trees behind the Tate Britain. "What are those?" a couple near me asked one another. I told them. "But I don't know what's happened to their branches..." I said. [A follow-up on Wednesday morning: turns out that the trees were just stepping up to reinforce my post's title! My excellent poet friend, who is herself living away from home this semester, has written to tell me that these trees look as though they've been pollarded. And sure enough, pollarding is a severe pruning that London plane trees undergo on a fairly regular basis in order to control their size. The fact that they can withstand pollarding is another reason they've thrived even in a city that used to be horribly polluted; their particular kind of bark has also historically helped them to breathe city air without dying off. Thanks for this information, friend.]

Rumor has it that the King's College cows should have been brought back to their pasture today. They weren't out yet when I was striding through on my way to the morning train.