Vancouver, Caffé Amici 13th September 2008
These days so melancholy and reluctant.Dragging through student letters.
What's wrong with me. My heart is sore. Dimly. Last night Dorothy at 95
foundering, repeating. There was a moment coming through the dining room
in the dark - had been taking dishes to the kitchen from the front porch
- David had left the lights off - when I saw the beveled leaded glass in
the two high west windows in the living room refracting faint post-sunset
yellow - two narrow rectangles of prismatic bits intense in the black wall,
grapevines and yellow sky. What about them - the old house on River Drive
- that best of addresses - Dorothy looking out at the long light touching
the red apples at the top of the tree, - --- --- --- she said several times.
The light in the big river tree was translucent, gold from sideways in amidst
its many limbs, skinned over every leaf. Felt it was somewhere I couldn't
go but I knew it was there.
The falling man again on CBC. What it is about Americans. "There
were things you weren't supposed to see, there were things you weren't supposed
to say." Americans identifying with an image of victory not an image
of finality. That's so foreign to me. Horror and gasping are foreign to
me. Life ends. "It was either burn alive or go quickly." This
man is good. It's about sane evaluation. Suffering doesn't seem to be such
a consideration, brief suffering at least. What I dread is death of intelligence.
And I dread it every day I think. I notice it. Until I don't. "Took
his life in his hands for just that second," she says, another sane
15 Caffé Calabria.
Defined challenge is the question - what's hard enough and yet winnable
given ten years - not just mopping up what I've already done - what's harder
than neuroscience and philosophy of mind - or as hard - something that doesn't
have to be dumb to succeed - the culture of that chromium music - in whatever
medium - it isn't place as known though it's from place, from its principles
- it's not female shining - it's subtle and sinuous as air - it's her in
maturity - it's a craft to make - it's already there rotating - I could
lift it, fade it almost to invisible, so only edges of its motion are still
there - the peaked cullet's internal green - the word glass.
It needs a network of the best and only the best - it's not Aphrodite
now though there's a female pagan membership - Greek language spoken by
- lines of many languages - it's molecular and goes to edges which are made
of light - it is formed in perception conscious self can't realize - sublimely
stoned Titania world - it's not about - though the about will go on saying
something somewhere - it isn't from but in - it's a use of a body
- I know what isn't it - always - it's a wished death I think, of something
solid - is it. As close to death as their art will allow. Edges, edges.
It's maybe another relation to the real - it's gnostic in a way, it feels
the fallenness of human custom. These many walking past, who are so visibly
nothing. Is it tragic, this realm - yes it's mortal, which is tragic enough
- what is the name for fairyland in that language.
Thank you Calabria once more, god-realm someway.
18 Granville Market
Late afternoon. Everyone dying.
[Louie and I arrange a meeting of her and my mother.] Iris and Mary .
Two old creatures. The same height, spines crooked forward, meeting each
other at the threshold like dwarves in a tale, we wondering whether they're
too old to be interested in new people. Mary next to me was trying to eat
with shaking hands. Her forearms were so messed up, loose and purple, as
if her cells were unknitted and any which way. We sat hearing the story
of her mother in Russia. She couldn't be stopped. Iris was in better clothes,
not eccentric in her speech, more civilized. Mary when she got started was
a jet of distress.
I can hardly think of her. I feel such angry pity. She's starved and
stunned and if I gave in to pity I would only go down with her. She needs
a mother. She's going down fast and she needs someone holding her, stroking
her head, talking to her about happy times, remembering with her. She said
at the lunch table "My husband couldn't seem to love his children.
When he was going to come in I'd say to Ellie 'Here's Daddy!' He'd come
in and he wouldn't even look at her. He was just wrapped up in his own concerns."
Iris said "When my husband was carrying one of the children to the
car he'd be talking and laughing to them. I always knew he loved them as
much as I did."
They liked it when Louie and I were talking about our happiest times.
They were listening.
25 Grande Prairie Alberta
I was lying down after writing about the talk, feeling my forehead cramped.
What began to uncramp it was when I felt what I hadn't known I was feeling
in relation to the monster-bodies of my old classmates, distress of pity.
I think of it as harsh judgment and is it really that? My look, which I'm
trying not to show, is What has happened to you?
Then two lectures and driving with David through dark late afternoon
past the western edge of Lake Saskatoon and up Saskatoon Mountain. Tromping
along a trail on the western edge of the mountain, looking over the expanse
of prairie, to the site where a 9,000 year old campfire was found. Gravel
roads with wet rocks hitting the bottom of the car. A bit of spruce I broke
off, the scent. Wet poplar smell. Mud. Shelterbelts - I was looking at shelterbelts,
those around present homesteads and remnants in fields. Colors of bushes
and trees - rusty this year. Meantime David was pronouncing on his topics.
Here a log cabin listed for preservation, there a school now used for ---.
I didn't mind learning these things but his ponderous officious tone was
wearing me out, that and the repeated squeal of the wipers on a too-dry
windscreen and the way a hot blast of air would alternate with cold when
he'd open the window to clear mist off the windscreen. I was sniffling and
my pant legs were wet and I suddenly needed to just stop.
Two good lectures yesterday, the one on Weds was with an instructor who
was a hideous lump, and all but two of her students stunned lumps too. Yesterday's
instructor was lively and pretty and I talked without a plan and the room
was alive and there were little zaps with individual students. I was setting
out the schema of Being about which is my own and female in the way
it's simply teachable and I with it friendly offering workable wide orientation.
The dumb look of most of the college students and how tellingly bad the
cafeteria food is, as if it's thought they're not worth feeding.
It's 8 on a wet misty day. Traffic heavy on 100th Ave through white air.
David's strange destiny. Being a hard-jawed young athlete and now having
transformed into someone in whom I can't see anyone I used to know. He said
when he was a child the book he liked was The hunchback of Notre Dame,
the isolation of the monster and his relation with the gypsy girl. She didn't
love him romantically but she had a relation with him. When I asked if he
ever misses baseball, meaning being an athletic body, he said no but sometimes
when he can't sleep he lies remembering baseball stats and assembling the
teams there should have been.
Friday night - Obama/McCain debate on economics. McCain the soft-voiced
good daddy saying he knows how to do things - Obama unsoft, tight, crisp,
quick. McCain is leaning on sentiment, Obama is rational and McCain's irrationality
is starting to raise his blood. Obama saying "John you like to talk
as if the war started in 2007." Then McCain goes straight back to talking
about the surge and the troops coming home as winners. Obama's pretty smile.
McCain's puppy dog eyes. Obama's voice with forced macho. McCain's voice
has false kindliness.
We drove and drove today. It didn't rain.
Phoned Tom this morning - he was
- my dear best friend. Loose and keen. Talking to him I got to what it
was about the lecture. He loved hearing about the elderly couples from La
Glace, said they were having something articulated for them. I said likely
they didn't understand and it was more as if they were feeling the communal
plant had fruited.
In bed last night I was feeling things that were wrong with the lecture
and also that when I said it was like the reports I used to give to Home
and School groups it was good. The community invested in me and though I
haven't consciously felt indebted I'm happy to have reported and happy they
came to hear the report.
It's raining hard.
Yesterday we first drove to La Glace. Nijland's land. There was a gas
well track back in behind a bluff. A grassed knoll. David was poking around
at its foot looking for foundations showing the original site of La Glace.
I went uphill among cow plops sprouting little mushrooms. I could hear geese
on the lake at a distance. Behind me was a poplar stand that was quite open,
an old stand with tops broken off, leaves rattling. Except for the gas well
apparatus, more of it to the right, it was a perfect spot. I was listening
to silence - there wasn't any high thin squealing in my ears - wide, absorbent
silence. David was standing at the foot of the long slope. I saw an animal
bounding toward him. It was a deer, that then turned and sprang through
the gate into the next field on its electric little hooves.
I could see David was waiting to show me something. As I was pushing
down toward him we heard geese coming from the northeast, long trailing
strings of them, the strings breaking up and forming into new strings, more
and more of them, loud overhead, flying toward the lake.
What else I liked yesterday. We drove past the East Place and south along
the ridge road where there is that beautiful big barn, to the Edson Trail
and along. Then north, and east on the Teepee Creek Road, north toward Peoria,
south to Spirit River, Wanham, Dunvegan, west to Rycroft, south to look
at a Catholic cemetery where I saw black granite tombstones etched with
images. A double set, his with a picture of a kindly farmer holding a lamb
and hers on the left with a middle-aged woman in chore clothes holding a
foal. Another with a naïve drawing of a log cabin, stylized spruces
and rising sun. A double plot in a white picket fence, the plot completely
filled with a big lilac bush. I love the country cemeteries here, the way
they only have land around them.
At Dunvegan I liked the long south-facing bench above the river, the
slope's dramatic sage-grey bulges and gold-leafed folds, the mission buildings
on foundations made of layered flat river stone, the Hudson's Bay factor's
house white-washed and well-built, the thought of market gardens flourishing
on that bench in the sun. Spruce trees beside the priest's house, Manitoba
maples beside the factor's.
On the hill above our old place - a dead light, there's color in the
trees but a lot of dull green stubble fields, vast grey sky - what is the
depression - the brunch was depressing, Bernice and Gail. Stopped at Valhalla
Cemetery to pat Helmer's grave. It was cold, a raw wind, there was Tone
Tofteland 1985 and John Tofteland later in the nineties. On the far side
John and Olivia Tofteland, she 1863-1942. Families laid out in their generations.
I felt my not-belonging. It feels pointless to be here.
- There's a big flock of geese trailing south.
What is it about Gail and Bernice - what it always was, complacence.
Compare Elizabeth's generosity, the aliveness around her.
Driving from GP to Beaverlodge seeing the Rockies in a row across the
What a depressing light.
The deaths, the time-displacement.
I have done so much false talking this week - have gone along with so
much saying what I had no interest in saying, asking what I did not care
Summary. The talk should have been better. It was a difficult audience
because of the spread. The main thing it said is that from loyalty to place,
their place, one can, I did, work outward/inward to comprehension of much.
That was alright. Telling them about other artists was over their heads
mostly but it was good to have it there for the few. I want them awe-struck
but at the same time I root for their self-confidence, as I used to. I don't
want my capacity to harm them. At the same time I want to be able to be
more with them. My solution has been to say, not that they are ungenerous,
but that they are incapable. Which one is true? Both. They are incapable
because they are ungenerous.
Thursday driving east toward Sexsmith we saw a large animal crossing
the road up ahead on the crest of the hill. It was a young moose.
Looks like it's finally clearing.
Everywhere yellow and dark green along the creeks. The darkness of spruce
with the same gold of trembling aspen, willow and balsam poplar. At our
creek, where I peed on the bridge, I saw how many kinds of willow there
were, I mean the way they've hybridized so there are finer and coarser cuts
San Diego 30th
Last night in 3F black sky with cold white stars. Down below, the silver
and gold of blue-white and orange street lights in their overlaid or patched
together patterns that make Celtic broaches, mythical beasts.
I noticed in the car that I was looking at Tom imagining Bernice and
Gail seeing him. He was wearing my black cashmere sweater, jeans and his
white shoes. He was tanned and trim from swimming every morning and his
brushcut was bleached silver. The point was, though, !!! a pathetic remnant.
"It was I guess important to me, like reporting finally to the people
who had sent me out into the world to make something of them." Standing
in front of them as a woman making large gestures in a white shirt - Susan
liked that and said I should write it. Speaking, I was aware that I was
demonstrating something with my arms.
Susan had been thinking of me for a month, she said, since I was reading
Notley. Susan and Margot walking in NYC, museum memberships, wine tastings,
a city architecture guide, a spice shop with 15 kinds of peppercorns. -
I'm hungry for New York. I don't think I could make it there, I'm too drab
and crooked, but I would like to, and I like to hear from people who can
be where there are smart people working hard.
When Dave and I were having breakfast together the morning I left, a
farmer-looking man sat down with us, our age, tall, fit, farmer's cap, pleasant
look. His name was Melvin Wold, "not one of the La Glace Wolds."
He runs a big successful body shop in GP. He and Dave sat talking about
Sexsmith when they were boys. Melvie. They were recalling the buildings
along Main Street. I remembered the wooden sidewalks and he said he remembered
being there when they tore them up, to collect the change that had fallen
between the cracks. He told a story about sneaking into Knobby Clark's shack
to look for his pearl-handled revolvers. They found them under the bed in
a gun case and were looking at them when Knobby came in. Knobby said, "You
see them leather hinges on the door? Them's the ears of the last fellers
I caught looking at them guns. - Sit down, boys, and have a pop." He
had a lot of stories and told them with smiling eyes I liked.
Monday morning, 6 o'clock, Tom's house. The Eastern rim is brightening
slightly. I'm on the couch in the kitchen, peering through the second-to-the-bottom
pane of the French doors at the greenish glow behind the leaves. Tom is
across the room a long shape in the dark with is that a bare foot down the
bottom end of his bed. I woke and couldn't sleep, came and did the dishes
and organized Tom's shelves. He came in for a moment, I heard him laughing
behind me and I laughed too - a sound I loved, two people one of them me
laughing quietly in the dim light of the counter lamp, with the sleeping
room still dark beyond us.
There were some moments in the week in Alberta that were the kind I've
noticed are too sharp to remember when I'm writing with second-level attention,
which it mostly has been. Shame at my foolishness with Eunice Powell, that
showed my lack of presence. There she was in front of me, I wasn't ready.
She had been so important to me, and I didn't have time to think. I blurted
"You were the most beautiful teacher I ever had." As I was saying
it I knew it was wrong, that wasn't what I meant, and it was stupid. What
I meant was that she was beautiful and she liked me, she wrote that letter
to my mother saying she hoped her child would be as sweet as I was. In our
community no one would praise a child. I was starved for it, and I was starved
for the quality of her beauty, which was exquisite and fluid. Singing at
the piano, slender, light.
Slogging at transcribing - it's pointless, no one should read this -
this morning the few journal passages that are sometimes pretentious or
sentimental but steadier than the letters, not impersonating a vivacious
girl and not spelling everything out.
Noticing as I write the way clichés - I was thinking to write
"come forward." I'm also more reluctant to write because of my
disgust in the transcribing. "More reluctant to" - professor diction.
Olivia's a known British poet - "widely anthologized." I read
a poem that was online and couldn't like it. What about it - I said "old
armchairs" and it's still that. It felt as if it was written from a
padded life. It was a poem about looking at a prostitute in a window in
Amsterdam. If I imagine O as the fat woman she became standing on the street
looking at young sexual pride flaunting itself, for money and also for something
else, it seems not true enough. I can remember her at the party walking
away with Carmichael, he looking for her shoes. I was in despair that I
didn't have her sexual pull. That's what it was about the night I lay on
the floor crashing, I saw in the record today, it was that Olivia had come
to an International House party and been more of a star than I was, because
she could dance and had breasts. So the poem has that in it, standing outside
and seeing the sexual goddess lit up and feeling one isn't that. To be true
the poem would have had to tell the whole of the ache of that glamour -
its complications - she defended herself in it by imagining the woman worn
out and still for sale, and she ended the poem in a false confession that
she might see something of herself in the prostitute. That's moralistic
and it's not the point, the point is conflict of desire for, and sexual
competition with, other women, and how devastating it is, the way we long
for the goddess sexually, and long to be her, and hate her for being it
when we are not. I didn't feel any sex in her poem, I didn't feel any body
in it, whereas thinking of looking at a young prostitute in a lit window
my pussy is aching.
And Olivia and I - she was a body to me, I didn't know I desired her,
and I did. I'm angry with her for letting herself be hideous now. Do I mind
that she's successful? I don't think so. It wasn't a work woman competition,
she was love woman raw and I couldn't be - I needed to stay out of that
trouble - not get pregnant, not get married, not crack up, not get betrayed,
defer it 'til I was further along.
I like her in this journal, I like the love story although not much of
it is told, I like the way I see her, a brimming laughing look, crinkled
eyes. Starry. She was personal, she reached me. Thank you.
It wasn't just her sexual pull, it was sex itself. She was letting herself.
Tuesday morning at Starbucks, shade of an umbrella, science Times schliern
photography. Election in a week. Obama looking nearly certain, o if it could
be so, autumn sun sweetly mild, sidewalk jacarandas in full leaf.
Transcribing 1964-65. Living like a teenager, bursting out of a narrow
inexperienced family, edging into sometimes drinking a glass of wine. Charles
touched my clit and I came instantly, first time I knew I had one. Madcap
pose without letup. Detail of events I don't remember, that aren't worth
Question - is there a question - what was forming those two first years
- it was the 60s starting to accelerate. In first year I wore a girdle and
stockings and stack heels, in second year I wore cut-offs and a Queen's
sweatshirt and sneakers. We were reading The Alexandria quartet,
listening to Sketches of Spain.
I still had the small community's interest in anyone I met, took smart
girl's charm for granted anywhere I meant. Energy. Huge social energy still.
It now looks like a massive waste, all those personalities I had no reason
to notice, but they were what I had in front of me and I was sucking them
in. Didn't write anyone off. Had affection for the oddest. - Wasn't so much
smart as very energized - people imprinted themselves in me and I wrote
them down to get rid of the charge. Did any of the writing tell me anything
I didn't already know? Don't think so. Was writing too fast.
Insufficient isolated parents taught to be afraid of the wider world.
A culture without sensitivity to persons, only the crudest awareness of
personal being in themselves or anyone. Personal feeling walled off into
religious fantasy and there diverted into blind symbol. Writing them kept
that blindness going in me. Olivia taught me a freer manner but she was
throwing herself around blindly using personal address to collect people.
What's lacking in the whole time is silence, self-attentiveness.
I've chopped through the first four vols of Forming, the last
one the summer in BC with Frank, Judy and Paul. Starting the Europe year.
What have I liked - passages where I quote Opa and Oma, hear their voices.
Oma's play. Conversation with Rasheed, where I have them verbatim. There
isn't much of that. In Strasbourg, where I quote the French or German. The
firm ear I had. My love for particular speech. Why is the visual description
not interesting. When I'm philosophical it sounds grandiose, it's not my
own language yet. - Is that the whole of it? No. Was I having heavy existential
feelings instead of down-home real feelings maybe? Something.
At the SUPA conference in March Olivia helped herself to Tugwell, who
I'd been having a shy little courtship with for months. I didn't fight with
her, what had happened hit me in silence. What I remember feeling is dim
quiet protest, women need to be loyal to each other. O had betrayed me.
I hardly felt it but I fled. She'd undermined me as a woman in our community
and I fled backwards to where I'd been someone's most desired. Meantime
there was Rasheed and though I didn't know it, my sister was tunneling me
in the same way with him. It was a lot of damage where I was fragile. Went
away alone like being sent to the hospital again, dug back into the lonely
pilgrim. Have never seen it was a repetition. So there I was in Europe making
connections with strangers, being fed and transported by strangers, loved
by strangers. Writing their stories.
Came back and lived with O again and never mentioned what she'd done,
or what I'd done, or what Don did before he married her. Our relation had
an unconscious I didn't know to speak. The relation with women did. A murderous
countercurrent with the most intimate. It's a light on why the women's movement
was such a relief, we could make men a common enemy and for a while not
live on a floor with a gaping hole into foundational undoing. And what does
it cost me now to have no woman I trust? Is that the withdrawal this is?
November 4 2008
We were on MSNBC at first, when Tom had picked me up after work. Olberman,
Maddow, Mathews, effervescent as states were being called, the states we'd
worried about. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and then it looked like even Florida.
At eight o'clock exactly polls closed on the west coast and Olderman didn't
have to hold himself back. California, Oregon and Washington lit up blue
and Obama was declared elected. There Tom switched to CNN, which was holding
on the crowd in Chicago, a huge space full of people. When Obama was speaking,
whenever there was a pause, the producer would cut to faces in the audience
- Jesse Jackson standing anonymous pressed shoulder to shoulder with many,
tears flowing unwiped. Oprah behind her boyfriend crying too. A young black
woman fallen to her knees. Radiant people. I was not quite crying but very
cracked, with a pressure of weeping that wouldn't break. Seeing the crowd's
faces was seeing my own.
The first family - for me it's not so much that they are black as that
they're smart and real, they are beautiful. This time beauty won, intelligence
won. A wife who looks her husband sweetly in the eye and kisses him like
a friend. Each of them holding the hand of a daughter. Barack's smile, his
grace, poised precision of speech.
[newspaper clippings, LA Times photo of the four of them on the platform,
red and black]
Europe was about cutting loose from family, country, money, habit, morality,
language, school - I'd been in school 14 years. Came home and couldn't tell
what I had in me, a dumb mass of intensity - I had taken in so much, had
been so many people and places. The year was a test of capacity I didn't
think of as a test - I got back and I was larger than Queen's, I was larger
than the middle class, I'd gone to my existing edges. Later I was promiscuous
because sex wasn't much of a deal for me - I was out of the family economy
- didn't know yet that that would open out - to independence for - I'm sidestepping
the word - art.
Listening to Gwen Ifell interviewing reporters on Obama's transition
strategy and realizing I'm going to be interested in watching a very smart
man thinking how to do what he has to do. A massively minute job. "Who
is the best prepared to do the best job for the country." Meritocracy.
The end of disgust seeing inferior people given critical responsibility.
A constitutional scholar. "An idea of what America can be." He's
going to be managing a world system - "hard core realism" and
more empathy, both. I want to see how smart someone can be.
It was Michelle, Axelrod remembers, who stopped
the show. "You need to ask yourself, Why do you want to do this?"
she said directly. "What are you hoping to uniquely accomplish, Barack?"
Obama sat quietly for a moment and everyone
waited. "This I know: when I raise my hand and take that oath of office,
I think the world will look at us differently," he said. "And
millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently."
What have I been thinking as I transcribe. The writing's rarely anything
but serviceable. Affection and pain. Felt self-division always in relation
to men. Eloquent self defense with my mother, who doesn't want me to be
what I am. I so dislike her in retrospect for undermining the brave young
creature who was being so generous and fond with her. That happens from
first year at Queen's onward, she doesn't think about what I am having to
deal with or what I am needing to make of myself - she's stupid and fixed
about me, greedy: she wants me to be what works for her. That's hideous
in a mother.
UCSD midafternoon on a Friday, in the Roma years later. An almond croissant,
The bookstore. I came for my monitor and haven't got it.
Frothy. I'm euphoric to be on campus. Smart faces, oh. That one across
the room. A young East Indian with long bird eyes and a wide white mouth
- a wide short face, very bright - goodness, so beautiful. Animated talking
to a girl, he's an Ariel, so fine featured and alive I'd want a race of
him. Behind me a young man in a striped ski cap and worn brown docs explaining
physics problems to someone he's studying with.- There a female blackbird,
I think it is, flits through the room past Ariel and he laughs.
Tuesday before Luke's birthday. I've bought the monitor
I wrote a para after that, which I've erased. I can't write in the evenings,
it was like writing blind, randomly putting something down. My evening brain
can't do much. It can transcribe. Then in the morning I can hear thoughts
What did I see this morning, that maybe I could publish Being about
somehow together with the journal during its making, that it could make
something different from both, make both more credible - that it could be
a richer form.
Then looking in 2000 I saw I'd written this: "the real last chapter
Write a parallel book. The childhood of the philosopher. It's a journal.
It has future in it. It's a novel. It's a woman coming through. What will
philosophy be like when women do it with all their might. Is this it? Is
a lot of it written already? This book is its reference volume. June
Had the mind-blown sensation that what I'm living isn't possible in the
world I assume, that it has to indicate something esoteric: the sort of
story there is in Legend of Biel for instance, a solipsism - this
couldn't be so in a world with real other people in it. I can't be that.
It's Monday. Raining. It will be raining all week. Look, steady rain
past the drifting palm blades. A bird is the small knob atop the tight-folded
single spike standing straight up at its centre. The spray-sound lines of
tires on 4th. What else - a slight pebbly sound like water boiling in a
small pot at some distance, what is that, wind on some edge? The joy of
time - it's open for 7 full weeks. Going nowhere, working, working.
1st January 2009
Last night I brought home a pair of beeswax tapers, a half bottle of
fumé blanc, some black bean soup, a $5 little basket of raspberries,
a sliced loaf of walnut and raisin bread and some Humboldt fog. I set out
the food on one of my blue plates - my California home blue plates - lit
the candles, arranged some flowers picked downstairs, white pink and red
vine geraniums. Had a shower and put on the long black dress. Kiri Four
last songs. When I'd been crossing the parking lot with my bags, I saw
the homeless man going through restaurant trash looking for food. Thought
about whether to give him the rest of the bread so I wouldn't eat it. Thought
I should give him half of everything to make it a real party. Hot soup in
a jar. He looked in my eyes beaming when I brought it to where he was sitting
cross-legged under the steps.
This and that on the computer. Looked up and it was 11:59. Fireworks
thumping from the harbour. I was on the roof wrapped in a blanket holding
my glass of wine. Dense orange mist with palm tree shapes cut into it. A
yardlight cutting a straight line down across a wall.
Then yesterday stringing the hard drive, monitor, MacBook Pro, all their
cords, and pressing the power button. Brinngg. Monitor came on, hard drive's
there when I turn it on. Click on the hawk photo and there it is brilliant
and wonderful. Full size is only 25% - I can increase - increase - increase
to 100 or 200 and see what I wanted, mythic grain.
Then Tom all in black with his fine-striped scarf and silver brushcut
looking very glam, and the long strip of simple beach. High tide, packed
sand, stone berm on the inland side, green waves lifting in the west, high
plateau of TJ indistinct straight ahead, a few strolling groups at long
intervals, perfect New Year's afternoon. Peacoat pockets, walking, walking,
Caryn saying she wants F and me to talk about the difference between
consciousness studies and embodiment studies. I immediately jump into it,
I'll see what he's up to and demolish him.
So what's my relation to CS as F does it - students who come from him
are ungroundedly theoretical and often grandiose - not well dug into what
they're doing. I suspect he's patriarchal in deep hidden impulse, he likes
being a priest with ancient lineages behind him. I don't believe he is any
kind of original thinker. I know he's a drinker and that suggests persistent
dissociation. He comes from money. Is a womanizer.
Embodiment studies the way I understand it also is deeply temperamental
- it comes out of the way I see and know, the way when I evaluate for instance
Francis, I look at his body, how he stands, the fact that he drinks every
night. I don't separate those facts from my evaluation of his program. What
I offer my women students is a way of standing in their actual circumstance
when they plan their work, not disregarding themselves.
I'm not interested in consciousness as such. I'm interested in a lot
of things people consider part of consciousness - particulars of perceiving,
feeling, particulars of imagining and thinking. Have gone to art to learn
the resources of these things - arts of sentient being. But I'm also interested
in indications of nonconscious response and knowing, I love science as a
story that keeps opening into more comprehension and observation. Evolutionary
theory is a very precious accomplishment and it is under attack.
There are visions of body that originate in body/soul/mind dualism that
imagine it in a limited way, and anyone holding these visions feels a hypothesis
that physical reality is it, as a fall - a closing-down of hope and happiness
of being. We can say instead that whatever people, animals, plants can do,
it's being done by physical systems, and that upgrades our vision of physical
I start with body because it lets me imagine a human situation where
we belong in the world. Where we're embedded, implanted.
In that paradigm, embodiment studies is the umbrella - consciousness
studies would be how do bodies do whatever they do consciously. Environmental
studies would be how do bodies, human and other-than-human, coexist in environments.
TLA would be how do bodies use language to alter their structure, how do
communities of bodies use language to alter their structure.
In Francis's idealist version embodiment studies would be part of CS,
ie the study of biological bodies, and a person's self-experience of being
a body would be a sub-type of consciousness - like European phenomenology,
bracketing of Husserl, Heidegger. So would others and the world - it's a
Embodiment studies is a new paradigm and students aren't mostly able
to shift very far. I start them with books that reframe their emotional
situation as female bodies - Carol Gilligan, Susan Griffin - they are both
critiques of patriarchy in terms of dissociation - Adrienne Rich on lying
- Philosophy in the flesh - Damasio - Edelman and Freeman on consciousness
- Being about if they're up for a whole epistemology.
I don't debunk their experience - I talk about careful attention to the
difference between description and explanation - show that they don't need
the explanations, and that they can ground further in what they actually
know. They can love and be interested in their own being as much or more
in this vision.
- Mind is something a body can do.
- Soul is something a body can do.
- Consciousness is something a body can do.
I'm not interested in proofs or arguments, I'm interested in demonstrating
what we can do under this hypothesis. I'm interested in showing the subtle
effects of implicit dualisms, for instance in our language. It's a basic
hands-on form of philosophical investigation: what will be different if
we say it this way instead of that way?
About contemplative traditions - I would say here's a place where it's
particularly important to discriminate between description/method and explanation.
The culture has been shifting - 60s shift - Barack and Michelle - here
embodied would mean less dissociated.
I also like this vision because it has existential courage - it doesn't
dodge tragic facts like deformity, disease, death, infirmity. We die, we
die before we die.
There are three established and widely accepted
subcategories of twilight: civil twilight, nautical twilight and astronomical
At OB this morning looking down from the pier into sea water - pale green
with a depth of flickering glitter - pale clouds of silt hanging and swaying,
generating the turning bits - long shadow streaks thrown parallel from small
bumps on the surface - seaweed shreds hanging in shifting images, dark orange
little shreds and curls - that dark orange suspended in silvered pale green
side-lit and swaying, an exquisite movie. A wave shoves over it, a mess
of white, which slowly dies into a separating skin, which thins away to
I burst out when we were coming from OB on Thursday. He was starting
to assume he has the jeep. I was keeping the tank full and he was using
it for work and I was looking ahead to maintenance costs I was going to
have to pay. I was beginning to see that I was enabling, he hasn't getting
on with his next thing. So today we said this is bad for us, he has to work
from his own means now. I'll have to watch him scramble without helping
and we won't be able to travel together, or do much at all.
But then it was alright. I stopped at his house with a ten-pound bag
of oranges and a decaff latte and the NYT to sit in his kitchen with the
doors open, and there he was, not the tight ugly fool but the west wind
face in its pagan otherworldliness.
That so does not tell it. We looked through the Times magazine which
was called Obama's people and had a long series of full page portraits
of his cabinet and staff. The Hawaiian writer in her final two paragraphs
described a photo of him body surfing with easy grace, an island boy. I
read it to Tom and cracked before I got to the end and he had wet eyes too.
Why. The coming true. Our post modern boy represents an undivided intelligent
body whose wife is 5'11", who loves his daughters personally and doesn't
leave the kids to her. Who can describe her as both utterly familiar and
utterly mysterious. Who is a pleasure to look at, never not. Who is earned
trust in all directions. Who is demonstrating what it is to be at full stretch
as a life. But who also plays to the stupid or maybe is stupid in important
ways - wanting his kids to believe in Santa, professing Christianity. I'm
not sure about the Lincoln train and the size of the inauguration splash
- is that messianic? Or a right celebration on behalf of the oppressed who
can claim him.
It's 6:22 on a Monday morning when I am going to catch the 8:10 train
to LA with Trapline and Bright and dark and a 500GB hard drive.
Victory Street in Glendale. I was on a wide concrete bus bench waiting
for the 96. There was a late sun, 4:30 sun gentle on downscale wide street,
cookie factory a block up, little strip mall behind me, Vietnamese food,
a liquor store. Maladroit Canary Island pines beside me. Across the street
a man lifting oxygen tanks onto his pickup bed. Rising above him, further
on in the direction I'd come from, a long ridge of unbuilt mountain, warmly
lit chaparral. In the blue over the pines, a contrail drifting and fattening.
Cars stopped at the light. Mayo and salsa tubes left behind on the bench.
What did I like about it. The telecine session was hard. I had to direct
a young man who was setting colors and contrast so Trapline was wrecked.
I had to say, "Less contrast, even less. Can we get less pink in the
white?" He was courteous but he didn't have an eye.
What I meant to say was that it had been hard and it was done, as well
as I could do it this time, and I was sitting on warm smooth concrete in
a strange town with nothing more to do but wait for the bus under the distant
realness of the mountain.
Why was I thinking of Frank. In the ststion there was a man at the next
table in khaki work pants and shirt, and I thought Frank had never been
in this station and didn't make this sort of journey after he married. -
Isn't this is death anniversary, I think, January 19. Frank, I'm three years
older than you now. In the bagel shop monitor a small silver haired woman
in a very red shirt. The date on Trapline 34 years ago.
Watched the inaug with Tom all day Tuesday and yesterday still wanted
to be there seeing grace alert. Views from the platform up the Mall, which
was a reddish carpet that would sometimes boil like film grain. The man
straight and narrow in his good black overcoat. His cheek muscle jumping
when that stupid flab Rick Warrender made a pious speech in the guise of
a prayer. His face lit when Aretha in her hat like an African headcloth
built in rhinestoned grey felt opened her mouth and began sublimely. She
was a grey old bulk and her phrasing was authority - what some singers can
do, put more curve into a curve - what the mediocre white poet didn't do,
hewing to the humbly safe. It was her job to name the mythic and she didn't
dare show herself large enough.
Hideous Bush, lightlessly grey, demolished in office, become shame without
knowing he is that, carrying his bluff to the end, grinning genially from
the helicopter steps.
Michelle in yellow the tall queen holding the bible in her green gloves,
holding his hand when they strolled waving, changing hands when she wanted
to wave with her other arm. The thoughtful daughter in dark blue, the bold
daughter in orange and pink.
What should the poet have said. She should have named his beauty and
that other thing, that he has chosen to be large. People everywhere weeping
to see the radiant shadow confident at last, confirmed.
I was at a women's liberation conference in London, about 1972, in the
front row of a balcony. Below, between sessions, I saw a young woman kneeling
in the aisle talking to her friends. She was a pink, blond girl, a bit slow
and heavy, and she had a quality I loved to see, she was feeling intensely
and naturally, she was the sort of girl who would blush easily. Her responsiveness
to everything would show in her face but she wouldn't speak those feelings
or act on them - she was intensely present but as response rather than action.
At the conference there was also another woman I loved to see. She was
a dark thin American, an honoured woman's liberation leader, a public warrior,
articulate, aggressive and engaged.
I was a young woman looking for what I wanted to be as a style in the
world. I wanted to be both power and privacy, and yet I knew I couldn't
be them both, they were incompatible. The girl whose whole being was present
and feeling would have to override her large consciousness to make a speech
and if she tried to write from her global fullness she would begin to narrow
herself. Once she had taken the road of action the warrior woman would not
be able to go back to blushing realness.
I thought about what to call the two ways. I was very aware that the
contrast I was thinking about had for some while been called a contrast
between masculinity and femininity. I wasn't going to perpetuate that description;
it was obvious that both ways were open to me as a woman, whatever my cultural
habit. I eventually settled on calling it a contrast between attention and
assertion. Perception and action. It seemed to me there was something blind
about action - a sort of diving in with eyes closed, where reserved perception
continues to see and feel all the while.
I stayed in the perception side for a lot of years after that. I watched
and felt and sometimes made something, films, photos, pieces of writing.
There was a lot of suffering and sometimes great beauty. I was driven into
defeat in this position, shamed so badly that I turned. I chose power, but
I became a power making beauty. I was public, I was a warrior, and I made
exquisite beauty and was beautiful. That was a balanced bothness I hadn't
known I could be. The beauty wasn't an underworld beauty, it was a blazing
garden, I was easily consulting feeling all the time, as I was in the midst
of action. Feeling told me what to do and I did it.
Then I took myself to school, where I was powerfully prevented from acting.
I couldn't carry the marriage forward. Did I split? No, I knew I was suffering
there and I acted secretly. I prepared to act. I prepared on behalf of my
girl self. And now I am the warrior fighting for the girl but I no longer
am the girl. What I feared has happened. Universities make it happen. There's
a strong danger in education, as well as a strong gift. The danger is being
trained in dissociation. The gift is being shown how to focus.
"We all know what his choices were in dating.
He chose a woman as tall as him, as smart as him, and black from a distance
... there is a fundamental goodwill in him toward African-American women."
Bill Moyers interviewing two black women on Obama's options and priorities.
"What did you make of the god talk all week?"
Working on Eurydice this week looking at student letters seeing what
good work embodiment studies has inspired.
What kind of day is it. There's sun on the palm. Richard's sycamore with
rusty leaves that haven't fallen.
I want to remember to say that Tom has two ways of answering the phone.
When he says "Hey" he's there and real and we'll have a good time.
When he says "Hey, how ya doin'" he's freaked and doesn't know
The last chapter of Wonder book of the air. I seem to have ignored
it other times. Field's daughter. She's lucid. She has good parents but
she gets hooked by desire and it's masochistic in her. Why am I dumbfounded
trying to say what this chapter says. It's scorching. "What is it the
world in women does require? The lineaments of a steadfast, cheerful liar."
And then she says, "Is love any less real because it is imaginary?"
Yes it is less real when it is imaginary. "Sometimes it seemed to me
that people do not care about each other, per se." Her book has them
caring and not caring. It has the wild centre of it, the man who beats his
wife and kids, a source of magic value for them all. His language.
The way my dad was that. What did I say to Tom, it says it's all there for
you if you can balance in it.
But in the last chapter she isn't doing that. She's two generations on
from Harrison Durrance and she's living a more abstracted life, no small
Georgia town, no war, no Uncle Artie. A job and a house. I'm some distance
on from when I first read this book. I read it the first time for the gold
state of mad love for Tom, often in tears. I'm reading it this time dry-eyed
looking for what she knows about how to live dryness. I've kept faith with
the gold hope, and Tom has, yes he has; I've done the moral work, and this
dryness is the reward. And there I stop, a bitter sore heart. Which is better
- The window is open, it's just after five, a Santa Ana, pale orange
sky in the west, open ocean pale blue between an edge of St Paul's Community
Care and a leafy tree on 4th. Plane sinking through that gap. A lot of light
in the air above the harbour.
The room, this practical cabin, my minimal house. Expensive perfect silver
machines reflected on black glass. Why am I happy. Afternoon tea, for one.
A little late afternoon push that makes me feel this self. Artists' welcome
for another, that some little thing is happening again.
This is still civil twilight, stars can't be seen, but when I stick my
head out the window there's the several days old moon and Venus brilliant
together in royal blue.
Is it Obama winning that makes this difference, as if I can be more here?
Bethany McLean - clear poised pretty young woman interviewed on economic
policy - she's sweet, a snugglebunny, has the slightest lisp, a girl voice,
dimples, and a wide lucid overview as if she were the finance minister,
but more flexible and incisive and balanced. I'm writing this down for its
glorious normalcy. Love woman assessing the bankers, casually entitled.
Tijuana, MacDonald's across the plaza from the dentist. I'm early. A
stream of persons. Persons so different from persons a quarter mile away
on the other side. Little indios. Tiny old things. Bent little dark men
in cowboy hats. Women in shawls.
Halfway back on the trolley a big black man got on, backpack with a hard
hat hung from it. Black do-rag, big white teeth. He sat down one seat back
across the aisle with a big bright here I am flounce. I smiled at him. He
wasn't sure what I was up to and started talking to a baby. I was watching
him in the window reflection. Stops went by. I remembered what I have on
my journal. Caught his eye and held up Obama and Malia. He grinned and I
did. When he was getting off he said "Can I see that again."
I handed it to him. He studied it.
Had to phone Bob at Robert's Automotive about the flutter. He said bring
it in, I dressed up to go out - red hoodie and the black leaf necklace,
cleavage. When I got there Bob left what he was working on, got into it,
drove it around the block, came got me to go around the block again. Said
did I mean the chut-chut-chut. Said it was likely something around the U-joint.
Put it on the hoist. I was standing around in the sun watching from a respectful
distance. An old man with a moustache came and put his arm around me. That
was on account of what I was wearing. He was there as a tool salesman, said
Roberts was one of the five or six places he'd recommend. "Ten years
ago I couldn't give away a pair of gloves." There was Bob under my
jeep tightening something with what looked like a surgeon's gloves on. Then
Bob lowered the jeep, backed it out, turned it around. "You're all
set." He wasn't charging.
Good overnight with Tom. Thursday he held onto me for minutes, quietly,
and lay with his head on my shoulder, and that, along with the fact that
he'd had a haircut, turned me right around. He watched Drachensberg elands
and Brothers and sisters with me and got into my bed and cuddled
before we went to sleep. This morning he was holding up his arm looking
at the crepy skin inside the elbow, that place where it's worst.
A man at the aisle end of my row - a pale blond impression - not exactly
- something about his eyes, pale blue, round white eyeballs, wispy white
hair, pinkness - does he understand English? Is he Russian, I wonder. We
had an empty seat between us. Later shouting together over loud engine noise.
He wants to talk about the concert he played with his brother - cello -
Haydn trios - he's fluttered about his brother - I'm encouraging and patient,
I'm so starved for new acquaintance I will cultivate this one. He plays
with a string quartet and lives in Paris, travels constantly. Grew up in
Odessa, studied in Moscow, won a competition in Paris - is he only going
to want me to listen - I say I'm a filmmaker and he lights up extraordinarily.
I look at his mouth. He's maybe 50, an oldish 50. His mouth is young. He's
not large but he has big hands, strong, unusually fine-skinned pale yellow.
He's wearing a wedding ring on his right hand. After a while I'm telling
him about living up north on my own, going out to take pictures. He warms
up. As the hours go by sweetens. We write our email addresses in each other's
notebooks. Igor Kiritchenko, Quator Elysée. Toward the end of the
flight looking out the window seeing Orion high and simple in the black.
After Philadelphia swimming up through loose cotton floss and there's
the round moon far and small, a vast plain of cloud like prairie moonlight,
wide, blue and cold.
Showdown with Francis this morning. His hackles were up, hadn't thought
what to say, accused me of a couple of things that were easy to refute -
that mbo hasn't been vetted in the college, that it isn't articulated, that
it's ideological. I said it hasn't been vetted because it hasn't bid to
be a concentration, that it's very articulated, completely spelled out on
the website, and that it isn't more ideological, I'm just more explicit
about what its assumptions are.
Later Caryn said I should let other people be more included in defining
it, so everybody could own it more. I was aghast but trod water. Said if
they wanted to help define it they would have to learn it first. Was there
something more intelligent she meant by it? I don't think so - I think she
wants me to be more cozy about it - if I'm going to be a founder I should
do it more in her manner? She doesn't understand how a philosophical vision
is different from an activist vision probably, in the garden I could let
people into ownership by finding what they could do without spoiling the
What happens when people I've liked, had intimacy with, like someone
I don't like. It's as bad as jealousy though it isn't jealousy exactly.
It wipes out the realness of one of the few connections there is; if they
like that one, they could not actually have liked me. They must have
been faking or I must have been mistaken. The continuous hollowing-out of
I'm writing in the field of explaining. It's not good.
Dulles, 17F. It's just back of the wing. Low sun slanting through, United
919. I'm wearing the bronze satin shirt, jeans, docs, little black cashmere
zip cardigan and my metaled aspen poplar leaf necklace - years from now
I'll like to know that, though no one else will.
What else do I need to tell before I move to the new book. I feel attacked
at [the college] in two ways now. There was what happened with Lucinda.
I took my chance when she came to talk about marketing, said marketing should
think about how to reach the people who are dissatisfied where they are,
and intake councilors should understand it. There was a silent gasp in the
room. Lucinda said yes there could be a meeting and I said what about Friday
afternoon. It turned out that Lise invited me for the drive because she'd
been delegated by the fac to tell me that if mbo is marketed they should
have more of a say in it. "And I agree with them." And then Lucinda
didn't get back to me and I dropped it. I made the offer because the program
needs enrollment but I'm not willing to do anything anywhere to get permission
for it. The thought disgusts me.
The second thing is Sowbel suspicious of the beauty/glamour/enchantment
of the way I do lectures. What will I make of that.
On the other hand, the students. Kri's graduate presentation, Kri dancing
her talk all up and down, straight small body, and then the way she sat
in lovely balance on her heels. Annie in the cottage at hers, rooted, achieved,
pregnant, reading beautiful passages she could not have written a year ago.
Jaes freer, Deidre sober and moving into her own studio room.
What I have, that makes my lectures enchanting, is freedom in personhood,
integral platform. It's what they have when they graduate, and what I work
to give them. I succeed. Kri cried when she said from the podium
that I helped her to the voice she wanted. Jaes cries when she says I've
taken oppression from her.