San Diego July 10
Secret life of plants 1973. I'm reading this book again, finding
myself as if on the other side. In 1972 or 73 when I first read it I didn't
know what new age culture would become: a sickening market of credulity.
The dead men of orthodoxy were the enemy and marvels were being announced,
as they are now. What do I know now that I didn't then: I know some of the
true workers among the dead men and I know the new age is blind to the difference
between good and bad tone. It doesn't scrutinize itself. Headshots of smiling
people with no more intelligence in their faces than plastic surgeons have.
So now I'm between the dead men of old orthodoxy and the smiling merchants
of credulity and trying to hold up a banner that says It's better but
harder. There's something wrong with both, and it's the same thing.
Sunday. Not long after 7:30 I was in front of Tom's hotel and by 8 we
were parking at Torrey Pines State Beach. Mostly only surfers in the water.
Vigorous shore break. We went in. Warm water, warm creamy foam. It was too
busy to get much of a feel for it.
The sunglasses. Tom spotted a pair of sunglasses on the sand next to
us. Liked them, tried them on, was hiding them in a fold in his towel. I
said No, leave them out in case someone comes looking for them. He
tossed them next to his bag. An hour later a big wet surfer came from the
direction of the parking lot. He came directly toward us. Have you seen
a pair of sunglasses? Yes! Happily. Then later when we had arrived
back at the jeep Tom called me to the driver's side, Come and look at this.
There was his wallet on the pavement next to the driver's side door, open
and showing his driver's license photo. It had been there for two hours.
The best moments were lying flat and wet in the perfect temperature on
a blanket in a bathing suit telling Tom what it's like to edit a volume,
all the little tasks and sequences. What it was about it was the natural
confidence in it. Tom said he's liking me more than he ever has. I said
now that he's not seducing and manipulating all the time he's more at liberty.
He says yes I'd made him aware he was doing that. He was there in cut off
blue jeans and black teeshirt spry and lean, so exercised and young in his
Came home and have been working on vol 22. It's the vol where I am thinking
about Frank dying. Took a little rectangle of the carrousel in the trampoline
photo. That photo has an amazing quality of black and white grain, so soft
and smooth. How could that camera have done it? It's a quality that is not
there in the print, it needs the luminosity of the screen.
I look forward to making the images for each volume. I love the way it
brings the page alive. A lot of the writing is bad or nothing special. These
are slog chapters. I was just hacking through. But I can say on the volume
index, this one is dull, or, this one is better. And Proust ought to encourage
me, Á l'ombre des jeunes filles is easily as tedious as my
journals, with short good bursts at long intervals. I was combing it for
anything about Madame Swann. The young girls were boring on and on, his
indulged obsession at least as bad as my bookwork. (Sigh.) I liked the hotel
at Balbec but when he made friends with Albertine that was the end of it.
I don't know whether he was transposing gender but it's unreadable for that
or some other reason. DR is never unreadable.
Solunto [Cafe]. Slight breeze, caffé
latté, a truck heavy through the intersection, UPS van with a rattle
in the fender. Ah the smell of browned crust. A pedestrian slanting closer
to the wall, into the shadow of the awning. I'm wearing the cargos, which
are ragged now, and the black lycra teeshirt with cap sleeves. Physical
clothes. I look stocky, thick but strong.
I still like my arms. I often look at them, those parts of me I can so
easily see. Their long brown reach, with a beautiful wrist bone and an angled
spread into the hand. The skin on the outside of the forearm is quite weathered,
and on the upper arm smooth and pale. They're my smart experienced arms
that have done so many kinds of things. You will be old but you're not yet,
is what I'm saying when I look at them. I lay one out along the rail to
show it off and feel its length.
There's my yellow bike tied to a post.
These are good street trees. They're very green and the flower spikes
on the tips give them as if gold highlights.
The extraordinariness of everybody passing. Unspeakable exactness, a
spirit plain and instant to see. The body not at all hidden by its clothes.
The innocent gentle tossing of the boughs.
Vancouver 29th August
Rowen's face has more heft in its bone, a bit more. He was sleepy and
agreeable. I took him back by Zero Avenue and to Tsawassen. We had the evening
sky with cloud banks bluegrey toward the sea. Old Fraser Valley road, old
barns, old lanes. It was like taking him back fifty years, more, and then
stepping out of the car into the cold wind at Tsawassen, seagulls crying
and wheeling. Rowen's Carhart jacket. Hug goodbye.
As we were driving north on Clearbrook Road I was telling Rowen the Mennonites
hadn't liked me. He was saying why was that. We were stopped at a light.
A middle-aged woman with glasses and permed hair crossed in front of us.
I said, That's a Mennonite woman, and she might be my age. He said, If you
looked like that I'd be very sad.
Energy. At this age what matters is getting and keeping energy. Now it's
a fight. The fight itself needs energy, is energy.
Dave said a couple of things I needed to know. One was that Frank spoke
as if he had had to lose his farm but he could have kept it easily by selling
gravel. He didn't want to stay on alone with memories, he said then.
Another thing was this: "I saw the moment my mom took down his sail
and put up her own. I watched it happen. He'd been up at Prince George working
in a sawmill." "With Marvin?" "Yes with Marvin."
"He'd put on a lot of muscle. He and my folks were sitting at the kitchen
table talking for hours." "What did they want him to do?"
"They wanted him to farm."
What else I'm feeling about this stage is, don't look for life where
it used to be, look for people I can be on with. Don't be too proud
to fight to be with them. Don't be too idle to fight hard. Study disintegration
in other people, don't have a horror of it.
Was talking to Meg at Cineworks yesterday very fondly, but walking away
afterward I realized I had repeated something I said last time I talked
to her. I was cringing. Losing memory is very shameful.
Another thing: the bathroom mirror is large and brutally lit, and standing
at the basin in my orange singlet I saw the flesh on the insides of my upper
arms puckering in the way of old women. My beautiful arms.
I'm thinking the journal now will be recording decomposition with the
interest my young self gave to her composition - can I do it that way?
It is strange what happened in the last weeks- there it sighs, it has
happened - I've realized I'm into old age. Now I'm saying it with a kind
of joy, is it that? Relief? As if I'm accepting what I have been refusing.
On the street today I was looking carefully at the many old people -
it was Chinatown - how are they doing, I was asking. How is it for them?
I was sitting on the second step of a Chinese apartment building, the Fan
Tower was it, watching many old men and women in the atmosphere of China,
Chinese radio from the herbs and roots store, a woman on a stool next to
her small heap of goods for sale, knitted hats. There she must sit all day.
The lime trees across the street not turning much, just the odd yellow leaf
and a few on the ground, and that seemed to be China too.
Why am I happy. I'm happy I'm here. I'm happy for beauty at the windows,
for this music. The quality of this stereo. Being able to cook for Janet
and Louie, to be in a house.
Raining on the black maple, raining on the grape leaves, deep rain.
Thursday early. There go the crows. West. Are those geese. Cloud shreds
in front of the mountain. The oak tree turned yellow-green all over, wider
than it was, spread over half the house that's like Oma's house. Now there's
mist over the mountain. Is it mizzling there?
That constant, rising plume of white smoke is thicker and faster now,
as if they have fired up the furnace for 8 o'clock.
Rowen yesterday came from the ferry in his Carhart jacket and brown Chuck
E sneakers. We were awkward and then I made dinner and we rushed to Tinseltown
- he ran ahead and held the bus - and saw Riding alone for thousands
of miles - and then walked home through Chinatown and MacLean Park -
and made tea and lay on the carpet almost in the dark - and had the right
kind of talk. He wanted to ask something. Afraid to ask. "Why this
distance between us?" Meaning, why haven't you been a right mother
to me. I said when I was with my children I would go dead, I'd become unbearable
He's sleeping now in Louie's white room. I'm writing from my bed. The
mountain quiet in its skin of firs. A seaplane. A gull. An engine sinking
away to the end of the street. The oak yellower than it was two days ago.
It's very quiet. Here is my long-leafed ficus still putting out new leaves.
There are the dahlias on the windowsill striped red and white.
Luke dropped me this weekend and I was anguished. I lay on my bed feeling
my heart pressed tight. I would say to it 'relax' and then sigh. I was afraid
I'd have a heart attack. This morning an email, he was hit by sadness and
didn't leave his room all weekend.
Anguish and dismay and puzzlement at being anguished. My new passport
photo a large face, small eyes close together, compressed mouth, left eye
farther away. A woman not so much old as very plain-faced. Suffering and
What is the matter with me. At the condo I zonked on TV but I wasn't
squashed this way. At Louie's I'm wandering in her lovely spaces somehow
desperately empty. I want to go home. Waiting for decisions on films has
been excruciating - why is business and waiting so pressured, it can feel
like it will kill me.
I looked at Tom's photo this morning with a blurt of longing - do I miss
him and not know it, as if that emotion is obscure in me.
Five o'clock in the black.
Lying here thinking what a negative fog I live in, I believe discouraged
thoughts all day long.
I said on the phone, Why couldn't you sleep? She said she was lonely.
The terrible stresses of loving a mother who doesn't mean well. Control
"Wanting to trust someone more than anyone should ever be trusted."
I said it's sweet and sane of small children who have parents it is unsafe
to love to give themselves a moment of loving with their whole selves before
they go to sleep each night.
Luke came for breakfast. I made him tea, bacon and eggs, toast with Union
Market brown bread. There were croissants with cranberry chutney a student
gave Louie. Rain sifting down, a low sky.
Neither of us had slept enough, we lay on the floor by the fire. I looked
at his stretched lean tummy, the dark hair on his long forearms, his neat
good looking foot in a blue sock. We rambled on.
With him more than anyone I'm aware of the softness of my memory. "There
was a dog ," long pause, " it must have been you I saw it with,"
questioning look, "I can't think who else it could have been?"
Before he left he held up his phone and showed me photos, clicked through
his tunes and played me some. We sang along to From a jack to a king.
He's sad about Kim, misses her, doesn't want any more to sleep with strangers,
His long hugs hello and goodbye.
I told him the story of bustling up the Drive with a big double ice cream
cone, maple walnut, and stubbing my toe and falling, but falling carefully
so I landed on my forearm with the ice cream cone held upright. It was Saturday
morning and there was a lot of traffic on the sidewalk. I could see people's
legs halted in front of me and feel them behind me. I didn't look at them
but I said "Saved it." The man in the group in front of me applauded
and then the group behind me did too.
Luke laughed, told the story of shooting off an embankment in Greece
on a motor velo and landing on the roof of a yacht, and the hundred patrons
of cafes across the road coming to stand above him and applaud.
I'm feeling Susan in this writing, as if I want there to be someone I'm
writing to, now, as if my own company isn't enough. But this para was for
my own company.
When I make Luke laugh I'm relieved that I'm not boring him the way Mary
bores me. I feel I'm still viable.
What I wrote S yesterday:
My mom. Drove fast through early autumn. There's a high bridge over
the Fraser and mist was rising from the cold surface of the river and curled
around the bridge blazing white. Rusty alders and poplars, cedar and fir,
blackberry embankments, long grass for a fast half hour that opens to the
immense Valley, real mountains high as the Rockies, miles distant but all
around like a rim. And then a very small old woman stooping and peering
in a 60s condo with artificial plants and false-gilt railing in the foyer,
little apartment with so much stuff, missionary pictures on the fridge.
Took her to lunch, made her laugh, argued about religion. She was not bad
but I can't take much of her. "You know the Epps believe in short visits."
"Yes I know." Gives me Mennonite sausage to take home. Stands
at the top of the stairs as I escape. The highway's slower on the way back.
Stop and start before the bridge, time to look at the glitter on the leaves,
the autumn powder in the air. It's hot.
The journals of Knud Rasmussen. I liked the camerawork. Faces
held a long time. The way he'd slide back from a woman's face to the face
of a baby falling asleep behind her. The way people outside would stand
at different distances so they could be felt as a group - is that what I
mean - something unusual in the way they'd be distributed, as if it's something
they do differently.
During the shaman's story I was hearing phrases from my journal, copied
out of Rasmussen in 1981. "Spirits along these shores." The woman
who fucks spirits in beautiful melted light and wisping sound - they did
that well. The beautiful face listening in the background of Pakak's story,
an unusual costume of weasel tails around her head - the way she was the
left side of the frame when Pakak was speaking on the right, beautiful motionless
attention while he became more excited in his telling. The quiet attention
in people's faces generally, like the full attention of an animal's face.
The lines tattooed on women's faces, that bring them closer to an animal's
The horrible preaching of the Christian leader, and people's obedient
placement in rows, men standing in the back, women kneeling in front. Sacramental
eating of tabooed meat. He showed the bodies changed.
The attention in the costumes.
The way sometimes a joke would go by that wasn't understood.
The natural light throughout - blue chinks in the igloos, the line of
fire in a blubber lamp poked by a woman nearby. The night scene with night's
blue transparency, the pale horizons of dawn and dusk. The breath at people's
faces when they speak. The ice particles on a European's beard.
The comic scene in which everyone was really cracking up.
The way it was next thing to a documentary, no plot just atmosphere.
The shaman renouncing his sprits - what was renounced? I'm feeling this
has something to do with Orpheus. The way her spirit-love scenes were shot,
the spirit-sound, dense light crying and murmuring like the visual texture
Louie said during the group scenes in an igloo she'd feel people next
to her and around her.
What spirits are renounced by for instance the Mennonites, what spirits
are recovered by breaking their taboos.
There are the crows. It's overcast today, daylight just showing at 7.
YVR. Boarding isn't for an hour and a half - the restfulness of the holding
area - "Going home today?" said the customs guard.
I love the moment when I'm through customs and hand the bags to the handlers
and then walk on with just my shoulder bag. Now the journey has caught,
the door has opened.
Here's my house. It's lighter here at 7.
A sheet of light reflecting from an upper window of the condos opposite
appearing on my bookcase. Oh little place. It's ugly. The agaves are scorched
and moldy, the windowlessness is bad. I was happy to remember my slippers.
Had forgotten where the bowls go until I had one in my hand washing it.
And then unpacking, distributing stuff into its nooks, opening mail,
pulling in second packets and sending notes to say I got them. Hard hot
What do I want to say about the trip. The pilot said as we left Vancouver
that we'd be traveling at 41,000 feet. I hadn't known how high that is.
We were over the Gulf Islands and I was looking down frightened for a moment,
the buildings were so small. Later I asked the stewardess what's the highest
domestic flights go. She said 42,000. At 14,000 people wd pass out without
the pressurization. They keep cabin pressure at 8,000', which is Denver.
When the pressure is less than that the fizzy drinks won't pour. There was
a flight a few days ago where it took the whole flight to get the cart down
I hear and feel footsteps on the roof, there he is in a red long-sleeved
t. He's not the thin young man he was when I left. 10 lb under the ribcage.
He launches into his new schedule, overtime on weekends and work on Saturdays
maybe 'til Christmas. Wants to stay in his room. My heart hurts. I'm going
to leave, I'm saying to myself. Get up and fight. Sit opposite for that.
Emotional starvation. Little hopes. Four years. Why doesn't it occur to
you. He says amicably that we can find a place right away, and he's even
been thinking we could live together. That's a little extreme, I say and
go sit next to him and put my head on his shoulder. The rest of the evening
I'm all over him. I want to kiss, he wants to talk. He's talking a streak,
wants to go on doing it.
When I brought supper to his hotel last night and we were kissing hello
in the elevator my hands went up to his shoulders with - here I'm stumped
what to call it - it's a sensation like pressure but it's not pressure -
a light touch with as if a pressure inside it? Behind it? An erotic intendedness,
intentness. I was realizing I hadn't touched him that way in years, or anyone.
How could something like that leave me without my noticing.
We were on his bed eating. He was making an effort, not motoring, not
playing music, not turning on the TV. Asking me questions. I talked about
Laura and then he talked about work a bit, not motoring. Then we did what
we've never done, just petted. He got my pants down, so that people in A
seats in descending airplanes could see his hand creeping about in my thinner-than-it-was
fur, and later very lusciously stroking my bum cheeks.
Will I say something about the Georgia Street place. I don't want to
jinx it. I'll say how happy I was yesterday. A love nest I said.
What makes it a love nest. It's a bit of a cave on the side of a cliff,
a perch. There was a young cat wandering on the walkway. Honeysuckle on
the rail. Beautiful double stairs, broad beautiful steps with a handrail
down the center, European. Black and white harlequin tiles on the kitchen
floor, tile around the sink. Green and white tile in the bathroom. The most
amazing thing, French doors in the kitchen that open directly onto the walkway.
The kitchen a white galley, with that black and white diamond-tiled floor
opening onto terrace and then air - oh! There's the way kitchens are placed
alongside each other so the bed-ends of the flats are as far away from each
other as they can be, and the way this one has the glass knob on the closet
door. The slight line of indent where the walls meet the ceiling. The exquisite
storage area that keeps the bathroom door from opening into the main room.
Was there a window above the tub? The ironing board behind its narrow door
in the kitchen. The phone niche. The white mantle though the fireplace is
plastered shut. Space the width of a desk next to the closet with its clean
hardwood floor. The off-street quiet. The scent of grass. There'll be birds.
A Brazilian pepper tree. The fact there's already irrigation on the sunny
edge of the garden below.
The phone rang when I'd phoned Tom after work and he was going to arrive.
How come you have your phone on the hook, she said. I'll call you back,
Called after I'd written the sentence above. She had worked and gone
for a walk in the forest, thought it's long enough now.
She was in her warm yellow room with reflections on the black glass.
My room darkened as we talked. She chided me for snarking about Lise, said
how perfectly Lise works with her, how she gets it right. I said I was sad
not to have been able to do that for her. And from there the big sore thing
tumbled out, how I haven't been right at [the college] since that semester.
Millie, she said. You too, I said. I failed as an advisor that semester
and I'm not good with failure, I don't persist, I fade back. I was speaking
at the edge of tears. I failed in different ways with the two of you, with
Millie it was naivete, with you it was emotional weakness. I lost credibility
with Margo, I lost credibility in the college as a whole. I had been on
a roll. She said, You were in situations that were new to you and you learned
from them. Next time you'll do it differently. I said I'm not getting another
chance, I haven't had that kind of students since. She said, maybe you haven't
seen your students the same way. I said You and Millie were the only students
I've had who could read neuroscience, I shouldn't have blown it. I said
I'd thought of it as a video game, I failed at that level and got knocked
back to a lower one, and so now I don't want to teach.
She changed the subject and I brought it back. I'm still vibrating. She
said she wanted to know how to assuage it. I said I don't want to assuage
it, it's grief, I need to feel it, I need to cry. I knew it was true and
she wouldn't get me there and no one will and I'm likely not going to be
able to get there on my own. It was important to see it.
She said when I tell her things that way it melts something in her.
I said I like her sharpness but I'm not used to being wrong. I say to
myself, I can't handle it so it's over, I'm off the hook. She said, Should
I take that seriously. I said No, because of the way I'm laughing. I was
laughing a lot at the end. It was a relief to be confessed in so many ways.
She said We are both waiting to see whether it's safe to feel the other
matters to us.
My beautiful eyelids are slumped and crumpled. Tom's though are deep
and clear. The skin on his face is firm and pink and it glows. It looks
40. But his neck looks 60.
I don't know how old 60 is. It seems to be older than I thought it would
When I'm here alone in the mornings I watch myself nervously for signs
of illness. When I'm with Tom in the evenings I'm all well.
Email from Mary last night about my journal online. It's not a warm note
- "so alive and in control" - it doesn't say you're such a darling
and you write so well, I love that you wrote it all down and am proud you
kept it and transcribed it and made this of it. Would you say it's resentful
that she didn't have what I have? Mary's known for generosity but she doesn't
have free admiration. Her note is mostly saying why do you have it and not
"Accepts, rejects, compromises, and FEELS," that was accurate.
This morning transcribing July 1986 I started transcribing as written,
lower case, dashes, ampersands, single quotes, spaces. It is slower, it's
laborious and would be laborious again when I format into html. Is it worth
it to keep the texture of the thought. Regularizing it am I disrespecting
somewhat the person I was. It's as if I think myself superior to her, am
somehow in competition with her - that's so isn't it - I'm the one with
the PhD, I'm the one who wrote Being about - she's just a floundering
woman obsessing in attachment confusion and rivalry, I'm beyond that - she
was caught in minuteness, I don't do that, I ride more accurately and confidently
over the top - I want to say I hate her inferiority, her humiliation.
This is interesting.
Tracking it accurately has made me become it more, so that it is that
state making me see the attitude I had.
I put the key into Tom's hand and said You go down and look at it and
I'll stay here and start unloading. Then he lay on the mattress and looked
while I whipped everything out of the garbage bags onto shelves.
He said it suits his soul. I think that's true.
At Tom's last night I was antsy and then heartsore. We were lying on
the bed I'd made him on the floor looking at the cold bare room. He'd thought
to buy flowers at Whole Foods and there were small sunflowers in the fireplace
alcove in his thermos. The cat had come in testing the space at every step,
tail expressing every thought. We could see into two other rooms from where
we lay. When the fridge stopped it was quiet.
What was the matter with me, I said I was frightened. I couldn't tell
of what, except that Tom had been doing what he does, pumping with positive
talk. But it started earlier, when I phoned him at work and he wanted me
to call the cable company that moment to make sure there'd be cable last
night. That shocked my heart. He's addicted it means, he needs TV to keep
him shut down, we'll never have realness again - is how I felt it. And then
last night he didn't insist on TV and I was the one who wanted to run.
I said my heart has had to tighten its belt so much it is going to take
a while for it to loosen up.
Sparrows, hummingbirds, a flock of pigeons over the dip, a bluejay, a
hawk that might have been the falcon that landed on the laundry frame in
the garden. A sulfur yellow, a monarch, a white.
Quiet Saturday. We sat on the bench in the sun, bacon and eggs. The floor
is already dirty.
Weekend at Georgia St, all day yesterday.
Tom said layers of tension dissolving. We were lying on the couch yesterday
and I had to think what to call it, our two single beds in an L in the corner,
perfect arrangement, perfect height to lie looking out across the dip toward
the grand white-trunked ancient eucalyptus pinking at nightfall - we were
lying next to each other diagonally across the corner of the couch, each
with our head on one pillow and our feet on another. He was stroking my
head. It was sublime.
Our keeping company has been fraughtful he says. Yes. I don't see him
though I peer at him. He praises the place, praises me for finding it, declares
he's happy, declares he loves me. When he declares I split. I feel myself
both going along with it, pleased, reassured, and holding off against it,
trying to feel an alternative truth. The split feeling is an ongoing unease.
- Here, I sat up straighter because I am about to say something else.
It's always this way: I'm feeling the blankness of our company, that we
have no interest in each other and I should leave; and then he says something
that makes me feel it's alright, I'll stay with him. I'm not attentive enough
to notice what it is he does - I'm thinking he manages me in those moments.
As I'm writing this I'm feeling that both the thought that I'm going
to leave and the management and obedience are shallow. There's a miasma
we're in together, and they are phenomena of that miasma.
Nancy Pelosi being interviewed on PBS by a woman journalist. It was confirmed
this evening that the dems have the Senate as well as the House and a lot
of governors. Rumsfeld resigned today. I went to Tom's house to watch the
6 o'clock news with him, he put his head in my lap and I stroked his hair
while we watched Katie Courec interview the first female House Leader and
the female best field reporter in Iraq, Lara Logan.
A week ago on the embodiment list Adrian asked me
about Lise's quote on the epistemology page and about love as knowledge
generally. I wrote the list with six books recommended with a line about
each, and links to the web worksite and to Being about. I had one
email from a mature woman doing art and Merleau-Ponty in Ontario, MA student,
and no comment on the list. The week before there had been a lot of back
and forth comment to and from a young woman who had asked an ignorant question
in a letter with a lot of misspelling. The men were preening. If they can't
do that with me they'll ignore me. If one of them publicly acknowledges
me the others will. There has to be a breakthrough.