A colleague Araceli and I are proposing a seminar at our Humanities Center on Sonic Humanities. I wasn't sure what that was, but the phrase popped into my head and when I googled it, there was very little. The only place I found it was in the description of a podcast. My colleague is a little hipper to these things than I am. We'll see if it gets approved in the competition, and whether we get a lot of interest. It's worth a shot.
Friday, May 28, 2021
My girlfriend wrote an article on the Tulsa massacre.
Anyway, I remember reading about it first in a book of poems by Ron Padgett. Just in the middle of one of his books of poems, there is account of the events, something which is totally surprising given the mostly humorous nature of his works. Ron is from Tulsa, and he and Joe Brainard, with some help from Berrigan, started the Tulsa branch of the New York School poets. Berrigan is somehow involved, despite being from Providence. These writers ended up in New York.
Ron P. also has a book called Among the Blacks. Half of it is a translation of a text by Roussel with this title, and the other half a memoir of race relations in Tulsa. It is a kind of strange juxtaposition, similar to the account of the race riot in his book of poems. He also has a memoir of his father, who was an Oklahoma bootlegger, after the country as a whole had revoked prohibition but some parts remained dry, including Tulsa and maybe all of the state. (Tulsa Tough). Another favorite Padgett book of mine is called Creative Reading. Padgett also wrote the poems for Jim Jarmusch's Paterson.
It is an improbable path. To start reading New York school poetry in high school in Tulsa OK and then to become that kind of poet. You couldn't invent that kind of story in a novel because it is not verisimilar.
Anyway, check out Beth's and forgive the digression.
I was reading about how to write (and not write) a diversity statement. I won't have to write one myself, probably, but what strikes me is how it asks the candidate to construct their subjectivity according to certain discursive rules. Literally, that is what it is. The institution (which has already admitted it is white dominated, in a lot of cases), then asks the subject to define themselves in preordained terms. For example, I have read it is not enough to say "I am [name of minority group]." You must also articulate that identity in particular ways. Certain kinds of diversity don't count, only those defined in terms of under-representation, and the minority subject must understand themselves in the correct framework in order to demonstrate understanding of the issues. An understanding driven by the interests of corporate diversity consultants. That puts an added burden on the minority subject, who must also be able to explain what kind of a minority subject they are and how that furthers an institutional agenda. Where is Foucault when you need him? Or Althusser?
As white guy, you can't just say you don't discriminate. You can't be too eager, or you will be the white savior. International and immigrant experience doesn't count, because the only relevant perspective is US race relations.
I would feel insincere writing one of these. I guess I could say I am a specialist on a gay, Spanish speaking poet, that I've mentored women, gays, latinos, etc... My daughter is bi-racial, too. It just seems incredibly self-serving, because it's not something I congratulate myself on. It seems unremarkable rather than meritorious in any way. The person reading it would say that it's the typical white guy looking for points in his favor, but who doesn't really buy in to the exact brand of hyperconscious anti-racism of the past few years. And they would be right.
An example. My friend, XXXX, is chicano but with Anglo-sounding name because of his Anglo father. In MFA writing program he tried to study with YYYY, a poet of a different, also non-white ethnicity. This poet wanted my friend to write a certain kind of chicano poems that didn't really reflect my friend's experience or sensibility. It did not go well for my friend, who had to drop out of the program.
Another example: Englishman interviewing in my department. He couldn't answer the question about how he positions himself in relation to indigenous languages and the people who speak them, in the expected way at least. He was brilliant, but not fluent in American academic diversity language. He actually would have brought viewpoint diversity to our group. It was explicitly said: "He doesn't think like us."
Thursday, May 27, 2021
I lose objects--not with great frequency but often enough to cause me some concern. I rarely leave home, and when I do, I bring very few objects with me. Few people enter my house, and the loss of objects is not correlated with their visits. If that's what you were thinking.
My place of residence is small, with few places where objects can be effectively hidden. I have an office in the university I rarely use. Objects can be lost there, too, but not if I don't go there.
A book, for example can be concealed on a shelf of books. It is not the needle in the haystack that is difficult to find (contrary to popular wisdom), but the hay in the haystack. I mean, of course, a particular, unique piece of hay, indistinguishable in almost all respects from the others. I have lost books this way, though once in a while a book will reveal itself to me again in the exact place it ought to be.
Other misplaced objects sometimes appear. Some do not appear and eventually the pain of their loss subsides.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Bird song is not even a metaphor: it is a catachresis, like when we talk about the "teeth" of a saw or the "legs" of a table. But is not even that. It is more like the word phrase or meter, words used for two separate but analogous things, without one being a metaphor for the other. That is: we view the teeth of a saw as a metaphorical extension of animal or human teeth to something else, but with bird song, this is not a metaphorical extension of human song, but song itself.
The bright red of the male cardinal. The female cardinal is attracted to it, and we like it too. In other words, we appreciate the beauty of something that already has a functional beauty of its own.
Dickcissel, goldfinch, bunting, cowbird, heron, egret, sparrow, cardinal, wren, blackbird, swallow, grackle...
And the usual birdfeeder birds...
To be able to identify 40 birds is to know a few hundred things about birds. If you have seen a bird, you know where you have seen it, what it was doing, how often you see it, whether you see it alone or in flocks. You might also know a few other random facts about it, like its relation to humans (is it popular or hated? what does it symbolize?).
A la atención de: Jonathan Mayhew. Buenas tardes.
Soy J,,, presidente de la Fundación y te escribo para agradecerte en nombre de la Fundación y en el mío propio, tu disponibilidad y apoyo al colaborar en las actividades de homenaje y recuerdo a [nombre del poeta]. Actividades, que como sabes, tendrán lugar el próximo día 14 de junio, organizadas por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid y coordinadas por el profesor _______ ..
Tanto la Fundación .... como la Universidad de ... , en el marco de los acuerdos suscritos entre estas dos instituciones, también colaboran y participan en las actividades de recuerdo y homenaje al poeta.
Deseo manifestarte, que me tienes a tu disposición y si me haces llegar tu dirección postal, te haremos llegar algunos libros y publicaciones sobre la obra de [nombre del poeta].
Muchas gracias por todo
What is the cure for all that ails me? One of my mottos is "embrace the struggle." In other words, see the struggle itself as something of value. Another approach comes from my friend Bob:
'“We realize we have made a friend when in a relationship we are able to suppress that special disappointment which follows getting to know him, her, anyone – even oneself – well,” wrote my old University at Buffalo professor Lionel Abel. It is sweet to remember those first resigned sighs, from my loyal friends. The essence of friendship is neither correction nor therapy.'
Here the idea is to treat oneself like a friend. I have been having a hard time accepting the numerous flaws in my own make up. My lazy and dilettantish nature, for example. I tell myself that these kind of thoughts do not actually do anyone any good. In other words, me, sitting by myself and wishing I had a different nature is of literally no use to myself, or anyone else in the world. The second step is to think that these supposed flaws are actually part of the overall dynamic that makes me tick.
Unamuno has an interesting take on envy. You cannot really envy someone, because that is wishing for the obliteration of the self. He's not talking about envy of what someone has, but of envy of what someone is. To wish to be someone else is nonsensical, because then one would no longer be one's own self. I am probably summarizing this with some inaccuracy, because I don't have the text in front of me, but that's the idea that's stuck with me all these years, after either reading it or having someone explain it to me.
So the idea here is not self-acceptance, but a step beyond that. Actively embrace those features of one's self.
Two caveats here: This does not preclude the possibility of growth. In fact, it is only through embracing deficiencies that growth is possible. Otherwise, the first squack on a violin would be the end of every violinist's career. You could earnestly pick up a violin, try to play it for 15 seconds, and cheerfully conclude that you have no talent.
I can look back at difficult moments and also remember that that was when I also took up musical composition, so I must have been doing something right.
The second, related caveat is that this does not excuse being an asshole. "Oh, that's just me! I'm mean-spirited," etc... It doesn't work like that. You can't just embrace your own flaws and be ungenerous with everyone else's. It's a little bit like the extra clause to the golden rule--for all the masochists out there! "Do unto others..." doesn't work if one likes to be abused. "Love thy neighbor..." implies a certain self-love to begin with. In zen we often say that the assholes's behavior stems from their own duhkha.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
I remember cheaply bound editions of the classics, how their spines would break half way through the first reading, the pages detaching softy in my hands.
Then, the return to the classroom through clouds of tobacco smoke; fumes of buses.
The words resounded in my head beneath clouds scattered by the wind.
It struck me I could repurpose a particular poetic rhetoric, simply putting images from my own experience in place of the original. It is a way of gaining access to these images, which ought to be accessible to me but are not without a particular rhetoric that makes them poetically intelligible.
I hate pretentiousness, but then when I was thinking this I thought that having a strong dislike of a quality means, most of all, disliking it in one's self. I cannot do much about the pretentiousness of the rest of the world; I can only control my own.
I was reading a William Logan review of an edition of Emily Dickinson. He skewers some of the pretentious claims here. When she ran out of room on the page she carried a line over, but this is not a "line break" in the post WCW sense. Her use of envelopes to write on was a common practice when paper was expensive. You would use every possible scrap, so this was not unique to her. Her frequent use of dashes and capitalized nouns was also fairly common in the period, not some pre-modernist gesture.
Unlike other people who hate Logan for writing [mostly] negative reviews, I like him for skewering a lot of pretentious stuff like this. Even if we see this poet as a precursor of modernist quirkiness, it is significant to see how much of her own time she was as well. I don't agree with Logan on a lot of things, but he comes by his opinions honestly and never pretends to like something he doesn't. He is insightful about the kind of poetry he does like, and about the pretention of what he calls "the arrogance of style," a phrase he coins about the insufferable Jorie Graham.
I was taking a walk with my mom in a park. We were talking about ice skating. Then the ground was frozen solid and I was skating at an exhilarating pace, with just my shoes on, along with many other people, kids and adults. I seemed very safe, with no fear either of falling, or of the ice breaking. I reversed directions a few times so as not to get too far ahead. At one point I wasn't sure of what direction I was going, or whether I knew how to turn around. At this point, the ice had melted. I turned around and so a group of people, I looked for my mom and she was standing there in the group of people. Then my 6:00 a.m. alarm rang...
Sunday, May 23, 2021
I reviewed two articles last week. One, about a figure in Spanish poetry and theory who is very interesting to me, and a personal friend. The article, unfortunately, showed not effort in organization and style. It was written in long, Faulknerian sentences and the argument was impossible to follow. Rejected, or required major revisions.
The other one I accepted. It was the second version of a paper I had reviewed earlier, and the author made honest effort to tighten the argument up and followed most of my suggestions. It wasn't brilliant, and not the sort of thing that I would recommend anyone do know, but it solid Derridean criticism we might have seen in the 90s. Well-written and organized.
I was on a job interview. My host and I were walking through vast passageways in kind of university or shopping mall with all the buildings connected. We were wearing some kind of martial arts or zen robes. I saw Chris Soufas, and said hi. He was very, very tall, around twice my height. I wondered why they were already interviewing me if Soufas already worked there, but then realized he was another candidate interviewing for the position. That made me reinterpret his words to me.
A small girl, of 8 or so, opened an envelope and said: "These are the questions: what qualifies you for this position?" and ....? This was very cute. I was ushered into the room. The four interviewers were sitting very close to one another in a single row. There were very small chairs that I could sit on, against the wall, facing the four or them.
They asked me the first question, and I launched into an eloquent discussion of my book on Lorca and music: "I've become a specialist in the song," I said.
I kept waking up, finding myself in bed, and then falling asleep and resuming the dream. I knew, then, that this was a dream, but during the dream I still wanted to do well on the interview. I was somewhat anxious about the clothes, since to sleep I was wearing only boxer shorts. Going through the effort of the interview made my sleep far from restful. I was wheezing a bit, too.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
I've been working only one morning again on my project, abandoned for a while as I saw the semester through, and already I came up with an idea: music based on Lorca is not really all that oriented toward Lorca himself as biographical subject. It is much more oriented toward the complexity of his work, with all of its possible subject positions.
"The most direct answer come from Bizet, Debussy, Ravel... and Glinka, all of whom have 'told' us through their widely disseminated works what they take Spanish music to be."
"the many paradoxes in the musical history of this 'peripheral' country confronting modernism."
These are quote from the musicologist Carol Hess that I use in one of my chapters. She is a very good writer, and her work is impressive. I wouldn't use quotations marks around these words. Either Spain is peripheral or it is not. If it is, drop the quotation marks. If it isn't, rephrase.
Obviously, (well, obviously to me), this mannerism arose out of deconstruction. All of sudden the "language" we use to describe "things" came into "question." It seemed "naive" to use words that were "problematic" in this way, so everything had to be put
under erasure. Since we still had to use words to "communicate," we could "signal" our distance "from" them typographically.
A word like "aesthetic" could be used, but only in quotes, otherwise the reader might think we actually believe in "aesthetics," god forbid. The word in italics functions in the opposite way: here we are saying that this word solves our problems, as in the word cultural.
You almost never need quotation marks, "scare quotes," around a term. When I am editing my own work I almost always take them out. They imply a distance from one's own language and are visually distracting. Like many other things, this is an aesthetic preference.
I sometimes like to italicize words to give them some emphasis, but that too is to be avoided as much as possible. If the emphasis is not apparent from the sentence itself, change the sentence, or simply trust the reader.
Saturday, May 15, 2021
A week ago, I drew a hand very hastily and badly. In frustration, I quit for a week. I started again today, and drew one about as good as the day before my bad attempt. Progress is not linear. It may be that I make no progress at all in a year, or that I already know how to draw the hand, but have to learn to get out of my way by not hurrying the process: making a drawing too hastily in the self-sabatoging belief I cannot do it.
Friday, May 14, 2021
In my dream last night I was talking with my sister and my mom. I suddenly realized that my sister could talk lucidly, with only a slight difficulty. Her dementia was "in remission" for a time. I cannot remember anything she said, but she was very affectionate toward me. My mom was there, but the focus was on my sister.
[In real life: my sister cannot talk, walk, or feed or herself. She is advanced stage of frontotemporal lobe dementia.]
For our new DEIB committee, it was suggested somewhat facetiously that we put x, y, and z on it and let them torture each other. Kind of like on "The Good Place." People who have left the department for other places tell horror stories of some of us. These people could be the reason why some women have left. Some who talk a good equity game are among the worst offenders.
It won't do to have a training in which it is explained to us that you can't assume a Chinese person is good at math or touch a black person's hair. People in conflict with one another in my department wage their wars by other means.
The language of DEIB is really the language of the corporate neoliberal university, according to my colleague. For example, it the COVID statement on annual reviews was made mandatory in the name of equity, but this is asking people to divulge personal information that can be used against them (potentially!), since tenure protections have been weakened.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
I had [virtual] coffee with a former colleague today. She said there were three kinds of sexists in evidence (not in reference to any particular person or persons, though some names may have been in my mind and hers). I am embellishing it a bit, but this is essentially what she said.
The patronizing uncle. [Apparently benevolent, but obstructing and making things difficult at all times, slowing things down impossibly, with 3,000 word emails, overthinking every damned thing.]
The strict father. [Impossible to please. Also obstructing, in a "father knows best" mode.]
The macho asshole. [Arrogant, thinks he is better than everyone else. Everyone knows he is machista, except for him.]
There are several books I thought of writing, began writing, and didn't write. Rather than seeing these lost books in a melancholic framework, I see them as part of the inevitable "shadow c.v." I learned from them all, I published fragments of most of them, and ideas have fed into other projects.
Just imagine if you didn't have that! Then all that you know would be in what you've published. You would know nothing more than that.
Reading these issues of Locus solus it is fun to see otherwise unpublished poem and stories by classic New York School poets, and poems by the painter Larry Rivers. It is rather shocking to find so much original material... The magazine was published by Harry Mathews in Europe, and has a very bare bones approach. No visual illustrations or contributor notes. Mathews probably funded it, and includes long excerpts from his early novel The Conversions, inspired by Roussel (Locus solus is the title of Roussel novel).
I mean this in the best way... and the worst. Since I have strongly ingrained preferences about how I want to write, having to give a critique of someone else can be painful. My aim is to help, but I cannot just say why didn't you do it the way I like it. My preferences are for concrete detail, dazzling clarity, but a high degree of information per page.
I found an old research statement, probably written for a post-tenure review. Reading this I almost feel cleansed after reading some things by other people that dragged me down:
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
I've had this idea for some time. Write 5 pages each on 50 books of Spanish poetry of the 20th and early twentieth centuries. I've called it something Desde mis estantes. It would be my personal canon, with the omissions as significant as what is in there. Of course I need to put in 3 Lorca books (at least) and two Machado, but the rest will be one book per poet.
"and I shall never make my LORCAESCAS
into an opera. I don't write opera." --Frank O'Hara
This will be my epigraph, I think. I rediscovered this poem today, though of course it was the centerpiece of my O'Hara chapter of the first Lorca book. The implication is multiple. That O'Hara has some "lorcaescas," in other words, poems in imitation of Lorca. That these could be set to music. That he himself could do it if he wanted, but he won't. It's not his bailiwick, but it could be.
I was walking and heard a loud whistle. I turned and there was an indigo bunting. Then a few yards down the woodland path another one, almost as though they wanted me to seem them. Now there is avian life in great profusion. Herons, egrets, sandpipers, and large numbers of blackbirds, swallows, and sparrows.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Guy on facebook: "When I read the NYRB I visit a world in which only men have opinions."
Me: "I have been reading it for decades, and have been following many writers like Marcia Angell, Helen Epstein, Helen Vendler, Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Alma Guillermoprieto, etc..." [thinking: these are literally the most opinionated people ever, and in a good way, going back to one of the founding members, Elizabeth Hardwick).
Him: "It doesn't invalidate a critique like this to point out that something is not 100% white male."
Me [thinking]: You literally said that women are a non-existent (or negligible) part of the tradition and current incarnation of this journal. Since this mag was and is a major vehicle for all of these public intellectuals, you are essentially writing all of them out of history.
Yes, it's a biased, New York intellectual kind of rag, an extension of Partisan Review, etc... Everyone knows exactly what it is and has been, its exact strengths and weaknesses. I think having Simic review Creeley is unforgivable. But a world in which only men have opinions? I think not.
Monday, May 10, 2021
I probably saw more new and old birds today than any other day. Ibises, herons, egrets. Many songbirds, including what I thought was an indigo bunting. Several species I couldn't identify. Wrens or mockingbirds? Summer tanager? Numerous sparrows.
A new bird-feeder bird, a nuthatch.
I'm guessing it is because it Spring and variety and populations are near their high point.
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Sarah Ruden seems like a sincere person. She is the author of the original opening of the Gospel of John, "In the inauguration was the true account." There's too much of the "our daddy who live in the skies" language, for my taste. This kind of breezy tone is combined with transliterations of all the proper names, with diacritical marks.
Reading her response to someone who took issue with her translation of Augustine, I would say that she is a bit too much enamored of her own ideas about translation, her own expertise. I went back to read the review and it was negative, but in a balanced way. Her style in the Augustine Confessions is sometimes bizarrely awkward:
"so I stole a thing I had a better sort of in lush supply already, and I didn’t want to enjoy the thing my hand grasped for—the actual stealing, the transgression, was going to be my treat."
"Though she'd heard many extremely bitter statements from either party about the other--the sort of thing that the bloated backup of an unassimilated dissension tends to send retching up, when acid confabs let undigested resentments of an enemy who's not there belch out at a friend who is--she never revealed across the divide anything she'd heard except what had the power to reconcile."
The second one I am quoting from someone's amazon review, the first from someone else's review in another journal. At some point a translator's ideas about translation reach a point of diminishing returns. A very simple idea, like produce a readable version that is also faithful to the original, is actually superior to a very sophisticated idea that produces a jumbled word salad.
Friday, May 7, 2021
My problem with cliché metapoetry is that the ineffability trope just doesn't work very well for me. It's probably not because I don't understand it, but because I've seen it so many times that I want to scream from ennui. The problem is not that language is incapable of capturing experience in all its richness. The problem is much more fundamental than that: that is not even what language is about in the first place.
If we expect the word cinnamon to smell like cinnamon, and then get disappointed because it doesn't, then we are making a basic mistake! Words are place holders. If we know what the smell is, and associate it with the word, then that is fine.
So language must be working its magic some other way, not by doing what it cannot do, but by a purely linguistic magic. I look out my window and see the light reflected off new, light green leaves of an oak tree. I'm not going to get very far by trying a nice purple prose description of it and then wondering why it's not as pretty as a photo or painting of the scene. But language is perfectly adequate for what it actually does best. To think of it as a barrier or obstacle, or some kind of clumsy vehicle that could be better, is profoundly dumb.
Every poet teaches the reader how to read her (in this case it is a her). I'm reading her in Castilian, since the translation I received in the mail is not a bilingual edition (original is in Gallego). The difficulty is not in interpreting the meaning of a poem (though this can also be difficult), but in figuring out what it is all about, how the poem forms part of a larger poetics. Imagine trying to read Keats as though he were Samuel Johnson, or Vallejo as though he were Sor Juana, or Sor Juana as Manrique.
But, of course, most of time we can rely on strategies we have learned from similar poets. Usually, the topoi are going to be similar (or identical). Such as ineffability (the incapacity of language to capture reality, blah, blah, blah.). Or the relation between the poet's subjectivity and the world outside of her head. How is the poetic voice situated in relation to all of this? Originality comes in the particular angle of approach to these general problems.
Sorting out these matters is a complex cognitive task. We are also defining our own relation to the poet's relation to reality, an intersubjective relationship, of seeing through the poet's eyes, or refusing that sort of identification if we don't like those particular optics.
Thursday, May 6, 2021
I will call it the "joke." The idea is that the second line must negate the first in a surprising way. I have written
three four of them.
I handle you carefully, like an antique book...
You are, in fact, an antique book.
We can choose the attitude we take toward life, he said.
We threw him in a ditch.
My eye doctor recommends artificial tears...
My real ones do just fine, thank you very much.
Words can't tell you what cinnamon tastes like
not even the word cinnamon
I have memorized most of La voz a ti debida, probably about half the Shakespeare sonnets. Most of Frost's sonnets. Almost all of Claudio Rodríguez. All the choruses from Henry V. Lorca? Yes, that too, though strangely enough he is not the poet I have memorized the most from. I think I did all his sonnets at one point.
I've done a lot of Williams. Many of the poems are short. I can still reel off many of them.
It is hard not to memorize poetry if that is your specialty. Of course, forgetting is also part of this process. I can probably say I've forgotten more than you ever memorized in the first place, unless you happen to share this particular method of study.
I got a complete set of Locus Solus, the legendary magazine of the early New York School, by purchasing the individual issues from various sellers. The collaboration issue, edited by Koch (#2), begins with a cento by Ashbery, "To a Skylark." I suspect it's all lines that he knew "by heart."
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Someone has asked me to blurb a translation of Libro del frío. I remembered that at one point I had memorized the whole work at one point. I also memorized most of a short Samuel Beckett novel, albeit a short one. I'm memorizing less now, but I still know some of this material.
I read a sign in the Baker Wetlands about how this kind of terrain serves as a natural filtration system, burying and breaking down pollutants from air and water. Naturally, I thought that taking a walk there does the same for my psychic toxins.
Meditation is also a filtration system. It doesn't make life problems go away, but it certainly cleanses the mind, making trivial problems less bothersome.
Meeting with my full professor mentor group also works in this way. By venting to one another we get relief, much in the way that we can air out a room by opening the windows.
Sleeping and dreaming also filters the mind. I don't feel rested until I get my REM sleep. Even when my dreams are psychically taxing, they have this cathartic function.
On the other hand, being on facebook, reading student papers, or attending a department meeting has the opposite effect.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Here is day 10 of hand drawing. I'm seeing some shapes being more or less the right size proportionately. A tiny bit of three dimensionality. Sloppy details. Imprecise or confusing foreshortening above the second knuckle. I would say it's a drawing of someone trying to learn to draw. In other words, it shows a kind of effort that I like. For example, in the shape and relation of the four fingers to one another, in the shape of the fleshy part of the hand below the thumb.
Last night was intense. I was lucid dreaming again. I was amazed at the detail, because I didn't know how my brain could produce that many precise and detailed images in so short a time. I was in bed with ____ and _____ , and we [censored]. After leaving the party, I was walking down the street, invited a random woman to have dinner with me. We walked into a restaurant, and the food was quite bad. Apparently my all-powerful mind could only produce these doughy, unappetizing appetizers.
The recounting of the dream makes me seem a bit of an asshole. On the street I could randomly levitate someone or make them collapse by pointing at them. Realizing it was a dream made the normal moral consequences of actions moot. It was rather tiring. I woke up at my normal time 7:15 and was again quite exhausted.
Monday, May 3, 2021
Someone asked one of our zen teachers about "safety" and he replied that there is not such thing. I won't tell you his full response, but it brought to mind the concluding lines from Ashbery's "Pantoum"
Some blunt pretense to safety we have
eyes shining without mystery
for they must have motion
through the vague snow of many clay pipes
I've always been fascinated by this poem, the way it makes vagueness, bluntness, and the absence of mystery into something mysterious after all. A lesser poet would write "eyes shining with mystery." None of the lines give us anything graspable.
I looked through my binoculars at some geese, and saw that they had some babies with them, yellowish and looking quite unlike their long-necked parents. I also saw the cormorant again, flying to the same tree as before.
It struck me that I could be unsure about the identification of a bird, but never unsure about a species that I have seen repeatedly and well. The "garden variety" birds of everyday are simply too familiar to be mistaken for anything else, but I could easily be wrong about the vireos and warblers that I don't know well at all. Even if I get a very good look at something, I am just too inexperienced with genera and species.
In this dream I was in some kind of a subterranean shopping center filled with weird shops, selling mostly unidentifiable items. The colors were saturated and the visual effects were cartoon-like. It was a lucid dream, and I realized that all these vivid and fantastical images were the product of my own imagining mind. Even a quite detailed map of the mall, an architectural drawing far more detailed and precise that I could diagram myself. I looked around for a woman to kiss, but the imagery was not quite life-like enough. After a few failed attempts, I became a bit uncomfortable with the situation and forced myself to awake.
When I did awake, though, I was still in a dream. I was in bed, but surrounded by an unfamiliar household. I had to struggle through this other, grayer dream for a long time before I truly awoke in the morning, quite unrested.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
I have mixed feelings about the poem "C.V." in the last NYRB, by Iman Mersal (trans. from Arabic by Robyn Creswell). The first line is arresting and resonant. The topos is "pathé mathos," perhaps, knowledge through suffering (la letra, por la sangre entra). An academic career is based on renunciation of real life.
At the end, she writes "A life overstuffed with accomplishments / scrubbed free of dirt / proof that she lived / has cut all ties to the earth." I understand the sentiment, and to the extent she is writing about her own experience in the 1st person, I can't argue with it.
It is the notion of the shadow c.v., all the things left out: "Where are all the wasted days?," she asks. I think of this poem, now, being listed on her C.V. !! You can imagine the conversation.
"Hey, my poem just came out in the New York Review of Books!"
"Great! That will look good on your c.v. What's it about?"
"Its title is 'C.V.,' actually. It's about the vanity of having a c.v at all."
Where I resist the message of the poem is in my feeling that one ought to own one's accomplishments rather than seeing them as stuff or "stuffing."
Don't multi-task. You are trying to "save" time by doing it, but each activity requires its own attention. Take your time. Multi-tasking is cognitively taxing, and even people who think they are good at it are actually not.
[exceptions: listening to music while cleaning or cooking. You can also think about a problem while walking. I take a walk (exercise) while also looking at birds. We could call this "complementary multi-tasking," where one activity reinforces the other rather than being a distraction.]
Segment time if you must, but only for a deep purpose. It's fine to set a timer to get the laundry out of the machine, or for meditating for a certain number of minutes.
Don't fret about time. Impatience means you are undervaluing the moment you are in right now.
Stay off facebook / twitter for most of the day, or for whole days at a time. You won't miss a whole lot.