8 July 2013, Mesa Grande
2:54am. I was out in the chair sitting with my back against cold metal
seeing the Milky Way arched overhead diagonally from the southwest. There
were no strong patterns among the faint hazy speckles. One brilliant yard
light a mile away on the hill beyond the road. Crickets where the ground
falls off beyond the pines. I was regretting having no interesting thoughts.
I came back in through the house - the steps I made showing in the light
I'd left on - completely part of the ground now - firm underfoot, drifted
with oak leaves - and then the blue-carpet room, warmer - and then the kitchen,
very warm, and then out through the side door to stand on the broken driveway
looking up - Cassiopeia anchoring the other leg of the Milky Way in the
northeast. On slopes I wobble in the dark as if it's my eyes that keep me
upright. And then coming back inside I was thinking this house won't ripen
with me the way others have, 824 and the skyshack, Burghley Road, that I'd
made beautiful by the time I left, the making beautiful also the making
my own. Apart from the steps I haven't adapted it so it's still in many
ways a wrong house, for instance the tan walls in this room, this stupid
beige carpet, and I don't like this big pile of dirty fireplace stones either.
But what are the ways it's a good house - the screened half door - the
screens everywhere, this wide window and the well-made bookcase-sill under
it, the sense of roaming around into different states of mind, having reserves
of space on all sides, all of them except this room still strangers - this
room too, in a way. The little stone terrace is brilliant. The kitchen's
big window. The way it's sited, sighted, is better than the higher vantages
above, it's more ensconced, slotted-in so it's looking up as well as down.
I like the high ceiling in this room. I love the pretty guest room that
smells of cedar and has windows on three sides. The middle room has the
charm of east windows, which means that on April mornings it's the warm
room of the house.
I'm going through boxes with a different sense than I have ever had when
I've packed before, of time closing down. I'm not going to have time for
this, I think, and sort a file into the recycle-paper box. All the Being
about materials, I'm not going back to that work. House clippings, garden
clippings. - What am I going to do with all these journals?
Scent of wet straw and soft patting of rain at the near window when I
woke in the dark, sound recording at five windows and then out with the
D50. The rain sound is just what I wanted, not harsh and has a few birds
at some distance.
I'd done a laundry this morning and left the mudroom door open. Did the
dishes, thought I'd sweep out the mudroom floor. Sun around in the west
shining straight in. I was barefoot on the hot linoleum sweeping toward
the open door. Had swept halfway across and glanced toward the corner behind
the door. There was an intelligent-looking little brown snake, slender and
coiled flicking its tongue. I couldn't see its tail but was certain it was
a rattler. Poked toward it with the bristle end of the broom to suggest
it should slip out through the door crack. It rattled - a nice little rattle.
It would turn and raise its head but it wasn't recognizing its exit. I poked
some more, gently. Finally it raised its head high enough to flow through
over the hinge and down. It was moving slowly. Slipped under the foundation,
left a couple of inches of tail tip sticking out. 6 small rings.
Ramona Starbucks, Monday morning. We got to the FLEX bus thirty seconds
before it left. We'd come around the corner and seen an inlet of coastal
fog filling the canyon under Black Mountain. There'd been light in the sky
when we stopped at the gate a bit after 5, brightest in the northeast. Earlier
on, lamplight showing on my far wall from Tom's window, something I'd never
seen. I could wander in and say Do we have time for a little cuddle? And
then the way he snugs up tight, wraps me in arms and legs, wriggles closer,
then closer again.
The adventure of getting into the jeep and taking a dirt trail down through
the wilderness before the sun was up. I said We're going to see the sun
reach the top of the mountain, and we did.
Am I going to live in Borrego, in very white new small rooms on Weather
Vane Drive? And have a year to learn desert and work in a different way
than here. What can I do with ferocious sublimity.
I felt the small taking-care-of acts, lending him clean socks, giving
him dessert, cooking him breakfast, bringing him tea. I felt him feeling
them, I think. He took care of me too, swept the roof, listened to house
worries and options, sat absorbed watching By the lotus and July
rain three times each. Read one of my old letters, said You don't love
me as much as you did then. Came by bus, went home the only way he could
on a Monday, the long way around through Escondido.
- I'm not wanting to talk about him, am feeling how gross the saying
is and more than that too, feeling I've said so much already and none of
it has been much at all. What I feel about photographing this place too,
that it's pathetically unable to keep me where I love to be, or bring me
back for instance to the realness of sitting on the terrace bench in the
dark, with oak branches spread three storeys overhead, the toyon's dark
mass a north wall, the tiny marks of crickets spaced in their black directions,
the bat zipping back and forth through the light from the open door.
Bought a zoom lens today, an 80-400. I'll need it for the mountains.
A week from tomorrow I'll pick up the keys. Squeezed heart about leaving.
Haven't been falling asleep easily these nights. I've cast myself adrift.
Do I have my turkeys finally - was everything right - exposed for contrast
- interesting light - right frame - not too long or dull - very psychological,
the one and the other - the first is shy when the second barges in and jumps
onto the rim, but comes back briefly. Meantime the second is very aware
of being watched, startles, stares. They come in near the beginning of the
shot and so there is a minute and a half of just watching afterward. Shadows
move, bugs flash through in the sunlight, paradise mythos, a spring at the
foot of a tree.
5:05am. Nautical twilight. The Perseids. I was out in the chair looking
toward Orion. Cygnus was almost at the horizon. Angelo's headlights came
on and I heard him backing down his drive. There was no breeze but the pines
were sounding a dark low even breath.
Tom said You've been living in heaven. Hardly anyone gets that. Now your
karma account is down, you'll have to go out and fight.
Two weeks. I'm in the chair looking at my famous view with small anger.
That's done, I won't love you anymore.
Driving back from Borrego yesterday distracted by the heat, what I felt
most was the massive harmonious complexity of the mountain south of S2.
Late summer colors. The dry grass is burnt to caramel.
Woke this morning, got into the packed jeep, drove down through the fields
of boulders - put everything away - bought gas - bought paint - bought pastrami
and lettuce - sat on the floor and ate breakfast - inched around on my bum
putting masking tape along tile edges and painting anything that needed
the brush - did the same higher up, standing on the guestroom bedside table
covered with a flannel sheet - rollered the walls, rollered the ceiling.
The main room was a grubby-looking beige and now is white all over. Had
been sometimes using the AC, sometimes using the fan with bathroom and kitchen
windows open. It was fine. Then got into the jeep and drove home through
a long broad tub of hot air, the whole valley wallowing. It cools gradually
as the road climbs, and is sweetly cool when I get to the gate.
Rock. I drive through cut banks and am always caught by the form and
color of stone. Rock and plants.
Three trips down Montezuma Grade. I think that'll be all until the evening
of the 9th day from now. I was bonding with my new house. I've had to go
down and make the place real to myself so I can know I have somewhere to
August 31, Borrego Springs
Good things: scent of creosote; my bed facing into the long room; Joaquin's
cheerfulness and kindness in helping me move; strange light on the mountains
as we drove in; Orion at the front door.
I like the way traffic is one at a time, one gritty line that widens
as it nears. It's almost 6, Orion has faded almost away, I can scour for
it in the pale blue and find three stars. Sirius burning alone. The mountain's
flanks held up facing the east's dim yellow. A rooster.
Last evening I pumped up the bike's tires and rode the near streets looking
at houses and their yards, their singularity, each set in a surrounding
unmarkedness of creosote and sand, such visible assertion of some fantasy
of self. There's the house that hunkers down under a complete forest of
some spindly tall eucalypt, the ground thick too with bits of this and that,
firewood, building supplies, a red car that seems hunkered into the ground
too. The whole forest is chittering with cicadas. On Double O a lot of duplex
ranchers with Mexican tradesmen probably. There's an odd house on Frying
Pan surrounded by junk that spills over its boundary, rock music leaking
out of it at twilight.
Storm. First overcast and then wind blasting in from the west,
chasing tall dust straight down Weather Vane, beating the fan palm sideways.
That for a while and then a few large drops dashed against the window. A
while more of that and then heavy rain driven from the southwest against
the window, pouring off the roof. Soon a sheet of water running along the
street. Lightning, loud long thunder overhead. It went on for a long time.The
power was off, all the AC motors silent, all the neighbours away.
It's hours later, now, mud on the streets, pink wisps above, power still
off, someone's generator growling.
Last night seeing headlights sloping down the sky. They'd be near the
top of Montezuma Grade.
It's dark enough so I can see a dust lane in the Milky Way. Writing by
the blue light of the camping lantern.
My skin is like rose petal velvet these days, it's mysterious.
Still no power. It's toward 6 in the dark. A bird beginning, a mist against
the mountains. Can't make tea - could, if I get out the camp stove - is
it too much trouble? Maybe not.
Back porch - tea - marrow soup cooking at my feet - sun risen but dissolved
in sheeny mist - pale pink light on the page - rooster next door - wheels
on the road - something chipping - my neighbour comes out his door - I change
my mind about him - he has a big round innocent face - he says it's going
to be all day - his name is Chui - "Nice to meet you" - "Nice
to meet you too." The gnats take a while to find a sweaty body but
then they're quickly too many.
One dove silent on the wire - eastern sky a broad platinum sheen - there
were blackbirds after the palm's water yesterday before the storm but so
few birds - hens clucking - the gnats will sometimes sound a sharp tiny
screech inside the ear .
"Sehst wie er giest und tut und streut" - I'm hearing Oma in
her 80s peering at her neighbour the way I'm now always wanting to peer
through the venetians to see what that neighbour's noise was.
Conversation with women in Florida, Idaho. I call them about an AT&T
question and they talk like Stepford saleswomen who are being monitored
for any flaw in their obedience to the script. When there's a little wait
on her end I ask her where she is. Immediately her voice changes, there's
an intake of breath and sound of relief, she steps into herself for half
a minute. I ask her about the weather where she is. I want to give her that
half minute relief of being someone somewhere. But then at the end of the
conversation she has to go back onto script. "Have a good rest of your
week." Today there was also a plague of security system cold-callers,
about 6, mostly men. I'm not nice to them. There was a Union Tribune
salewoman I liked because she laughed when I said I wdn't read the UT if
it were free and delivered with a supplement of ice cream. If I'm outright
rude the caller-slaves can't be faulted for not making the sale. It's better
to be colorful than apologetic about it I think. Maybe it's what she thinks
Pleasure this morning and other mornings of making this little house
ship-shape: sweeping, wiping down, washing the sheets, carrying recycling
and garbage to the curb.
The sky is another desert, a dry reach, they are kindred archetypes,
something like that, homologues, I thought, sitting on the wall next to
the yard light I darken by throwing a blanket over the bulb.
On an upper stretch of the Montezuma Grade butterflies whirling across
the road like small dried leaves. When I stopped at that stretch of road
on the way back I saw them better. They didn't seem in a hurry. They'd light
on a brittlebush leaf or a pair would dance alongside for an instant.
There's a moment after the high dry incoherent Ranchita plain - 4000'
it says - where the road passes through two heaps of rock like massive gateposts.
The road crests exactly there, and beyond it the extreme drop ahead is suddenly
visible. So dramatic a road, such folds, such roadcuts, such wraps and falls.
What 4000' looks like, the tininess of everything in the flats below, all
the tiny messy human structures.
Saturday early. There's world at the door, a small palm, a blue-powdered
mountain, an early chill, two lines of wires, a rooster's voice, a woman's,
a long slant of shadow on grit.
Ways this place is sterile. There's no flower shop, no Chinese food,
Vietnamese, Thai. The desert land between lots has mostly only two kinds
of plants, creosote and that dry scratchy little silver brown thing. When
it's hot there's nothing to do but go to the store and the post office and
the library. There's nothing to eat. I walk around the market not wanting
anything but the romaine lettuce and passionfruit juice. The fruit and vegetables
seem dead things. The good Mexican café is closed. At the cool ends
of the days I can bike but there are few roads with not a lot to see. There's
a lot of open time in a day and not enough mental strength to fill it. Dry
There are few birds. Poor fiction at the library. - I'm saying these
things cheerfully enough.
At night when I'm sitting under a light moths flood in, scores of them,
little brown things, and bumble against my head.
At 5:30 this Sunday morning I was outside in the dark about to go fetch
the blanket off the lamppost. Heard light footsteps, two people walking
west along the empty and dark street. They came past, an Indio Mexican couple,
small, he slender and white haired. We looked at each other.
The other night I was sitting on the edge of the concrete at the front
of the house looking at stars. There was wind. A car came past on Weather
Vane, stopped, backed up, made a three-point turn just past my gate. Its
headlights caught the palm's broad crown from behind. For an instant its
many spikes were lit up blowing and dazzling in white light.
The frame I found for butterflies is eye level with the asphalt because
that's where they were. One sharp plane of focus faded out before and behind:
they flap in and out of existence it seems. The camera quivers a bit - do
I see heat waves. Sound peaks of cars passing. californiapatch.mov.
House arrest, desperation. On days like these I keep checking into gmail,
don't want to do anything else, just halted waiting for someone to come
There was an amazing light. I was antsy after talking to myself about
email, mind very jumpy, cornered. Got on the bike and went to the labyrinth.
Stepped over the white lines, sat cross-legged in the center, closed my
eyes. Felt the jumpiness, tracked. The dark hold was in the forehead. When
I held there the right side opened. What was left was a sharp patch at the
inner end of the left eyebrow. I stayed with it. It shifted to a spot toward
the back of the crown and stayed. There might have been a line to mid-back.
The bells had rung just after I sat down, it was five o'clock. I opened
my eyes. The sun was low and almost directly behind me. There were unusual
clouds above, a finely ordered array of small cells that spanned the whole
sky. The small palm directly ahead of me was throwing a shadow on the white
wall. The light on the palm, the wall, the trees standing around the circle
seemed over the edge into supernatural. Pellucid. Intense and rapturously
I went home and made supper, and when I was sitting on the front porch
step looked down startled into a stunningly beautiful bowl of salad. Looked
again. Felt I'd never seen anything so vivid.
T and I sat in the lit yard at El Borrego and then I took him along Church
Road in the dark. We stopped at St Richard's; I thought, take my Catholic
boy to his roots. Then sat by the labyrinth with open sky above. We could
hear a bamboo flute somewhere to the south. This morning were on the stoop
drinking tea with the sun rising behind a palm trunk. What I liked best
though was showing him pale hill. He saw it, felt it. He felt the
pathos of the little car and the anachronistic humor of the blue truck.
The use of the airplane'sound.
Farmer's market finally - persimmons, lychees, yellow cherry tomatoes,
Mediterranean cucumbers. Olives pickled with garlic, pink grapefruit, free
range eggs. Small shitake mushrooms.
[Letter to Greg about James Wood on Updike]
Its panes were strewn with drops that as if
by amoebic decision would abruptly merge and break and jerkily run downward,
and the window screen, like a sampler half-stitched, or a crossword puzzle
invisibly solved, was inlaid erratically with minute, translucent tesserae
of rain. - Of the farm 1961
If Woods doesn't like that sentence, he is not the visual sort of person
I am. It declares another sort of sensorium, and sensorium is what I like
or dislike in a writer. What I love about the rain sentence is that it
names something I've seen, and I've liked the state that seeing happens
in. I like being brought there again.
It's typical of a certain kind of male to need to insist that beauty
is not enough, that what's made needs to be 'larger' than beauty. I keep
a cynical eye on that kind of male, because I think that requirement for
the 'larger' is hiddenly anti-body, anti-senses, anti-female, anti-nature
and the other sorts of self-defiance that add up to patriarchal. Beyond
being irritated by that in issues-oriented fiction also am bored by it.
For instance Wood's own novel went on about god in long sections I skipped.
Not because I'm not philosophical (as you know), because they were stupid.
> I'm not so taken by the 'amoebic decision' part
But it's perfectly exact. It's what you see through a microscope, the
way the small entities jump from one position to another.
even when Updike's prose is at its most trivial,
its most self-satisfied, its most pornographic - and his critics will point
out that it is often all of these things - it is always, from a technical
I object to 'pornographic.' Why is it that many males cannot stand concrete
descriptions of sex. Sex is an interesting thing to write about, surely,
and like anything else should be written about with close attention. I've
noticed this phenomenon in experimental film too, otherwise smart sensitive
guys who will call films that show sex 'dirty'. Is sex too scary for these
'Trivial', though, I'll accept for a lot of Updike's later work.
their main complaint is that same virtuosity
... charges of favoring style over substance
It's a false contrast. Style IS substance. How so. These guys
imagine style or 'technique' in a certain way, as something done with deliberation,
know-how, with the ego, but really it's more like athleticism, like Gretsky's
situational poise and dash. It's a body organized so it's deft at what
it's doing. Updike when young was a Gretsky of observation and articulation.
his lack of interest in the bigger postwar,
postmodern, socio-technological picture marked him, in my mind, as a classic
self-absorbed sixties-style narcissist
Was he self absorbed? He wrote best from personal experience but wasn't
he taking himself as a representative human, whose experience was significant
of a time and place and class? Postwar and sociological certainly.
James Wood contended that Updike's prose "confronts
one with the question of whether beauty is enough."
It seems to me to be a stupid question, as phrased.
In a sense, then, the answer to Wood's question
is that beauty is not enough, at least not the beauty of finely tuned prose
and vivid images that was Updike's specialty. Art requires the wedding
of aesthetics and morals, and the case might be made that the morals are
Here's another hoary false contrast, between beauty and morality. Morality
is about how to live well in community, and 'beauty' - which is something
to do with loving attention to world and other persons and care for quality
of both - is deeply important to living well in community. Updike at his
best teaches loving attention. What could be more moral than that?
capable of art, and if it is disheartening to see how much of that art
is concentrated in the early years of his career, when his fiction focused
on the still-vital memories of his Pennsylvania childhood - the caricature
Updike, the one whose writing is full of explicit sex and overwrought descriptions
of the female form, doesn't show up until the early 1970s, and he is indeed
trying - those earliest stories still possess a bracing sublimity.
Look at the misogyny in this. What's wrong with describing explicit
sex? What makes detailed description of a man's delight in a woman's body
'overwrought'? (Arnold sneered at Couples that way, not a good sign.)
I would say that Updike's best impulse in writing is ecstatic, and after
childhood sex was where he could still find ecstasy. I didn't like it when
adultery had become his only adventure, but come to think of it that was
Munro too, until quite recently, and I didn't like it in her either. It's
not held against her, though, presumably because she wasn't 'explicit'
about sex. I imagine she'd have liked to write about what sex is actually
like, but she was too canny to risk it. That so annoys me. In writing concretely
about sex he was brave - like DH Lawrence - rather than trivial. He got
more trivial when he wasn't writing about sex.
> I wonder if the virtuoso aspect is what eventually puts people off
Updike? At a certain point, does the reader become surfeited
I don't think so. I think it's that he ran out of topics. Once he was
famous and well off and more happily married he was living so social and
conventional a life that his experience was no longer interesting.
> Oscar Peterson, one of the most brilliant pianists ever, in terms
of speed, precision, attack ... Art Tatum, widely regarded as the having
unequalled pianistic technique ... you also have players like Charlie Parker
and John Coltrane, who could wipe out other sax players technically, but
whose emotional intensity, unique musical personality and stream of ideas
sweep away any doubts.
But being able to move one's fingers quickly and accurately isn't a
good parallel with Updike's grace in writing. Writing a beautiful sentence
is more like a gesture in dance, in which emotional presence and whole-person
intelligence, or their lack, cannot help but show up in plain sight.
> Can one consider the enough-ness of beauty in terms of actual people?
Did you tend to feel that that quality was sufficient (in some way or another)?
Beauty in people is so tricky a question. For one thing, almost every
person is beautiful in childhood. I've come to feel that beauty in the
young is not much of an indicator of personal quality over time. In adults
it sometimes is, but then again many can be beautiful one moment, and not,
the next, so there it becomes an indicator of momentary state.
A complication is that when people are thought beautiful they have too
much or too easy social power and that can give a murky insecure sense
of unearned privilege, of being rotten at the core. Paul Newman was an
example of someone who didn't let it do that to him.
Another complication is that one is hated for it by those who don't
have the access it gives. Tom has spoken of the automatic hostility he's
felt all his life from other men who assume he can get what they can't
(chicks for free). I think it must have been that way for Luke too. When
I've had very pretty female students I've asked them to look at the subliminal
current of hatred they've had to face on account of it, often even with
- Another complication is that for many people the perception of beauty
has been so fraught they have given up on it and have had to lapse into
a blank conventionality about it. They find beautiful what other people
have said is beautiful, and keep the whole mess penned up in Hollywood
There's been a time change and it's colder at night. It's the season
honey bees drop dead on the floor. The roof cracks hard at night. I'll get
out the winter duvet.
Sunrise has been a narrow wide band, orange and then gold. That dimmed
and now there's hotter local orange in the sun's direction.
Chosen emergency. I've been lost, feeble. I don't know what to do all
day. I'm lonely. Dull company, wanting to hide out all day in novels. Relieved
when it's night and I can allow myself to watch movies. Relieved to go to
sleep. Sorry to wake. Don't get email since there aren't students. Not grabbed
by work thoughts. Not driven by love. Flat horizon. Told Tom I'm a limp
flag waiting for a wind. Don't have a context for work. Don't have a current
aesthetic. Don't know what needs doing. No one wants to know me at this
plain age. Meetings don't lead to anything. Correspondents drop me. I'm
not saying those things in despair, I'm laying out the new circumstance
I have to work with. I've leapt into vacancy because I want a last best
enterprise. It's completely bootstrapped though, and I don't have the energy
I did for long focus. I'll work for an hour and then fade. So much depends
on will, now, and will itself depends on energy.
Meantime this good house. I'm at the window with my feet on the table.
Sun through the bedside venetians straight onto the fern, which is waving
in the heater's breeze. Now sun broadside through the front window where
the blinds are up for solar heat. Queso fresco in the blue bowl for breakfast
with cucumber, yellow pear tomatoes, red pepper, capers. The refrigerator
Something has lifted, I think.
- Isn't my aesthetic what it always was, to make things that give people
a sense of human life as worth something.
Last night I was working on finishing the turkey movie, which I am going
to call here because of the way, after the turkeys have left I relax
into the sound and zipping golden flies and the dripping tap.
Do the crickets like me? I could hear one - it's been like that every
evening - near the front door after I turn out the lights. There it is again.
Is it outside or inside? I'd just herded it out. It's in the little gap
between the front door and the screen door.
Wanted to say too how much scents have been pleasing me. Small whiff
of lilies from across the room. Slightest little rag of grapefruit from
the bowl in the kitchen. Drying petals on the car seat after I'd stripped
them from a lavendar rose in the Casa del Zorro courtyard. Lemon flowers
when I open the passenger-side door of the jeep.
Yesterday I drove through corners of three counties. What if anything
was that worth. I liked that ditches we were crossing on 86 had names on
little boards. I wanted to remember them but don't. I was boxed in on the
inside lane by immense RVs and toy-haulers and RVs pulling toy-haulers,
marveling at the money spent and supposing all those men with money listen
to Rush Limbaugh and would want to rise up to form the Republic of Gilead
if they weren't diverted into rushing around the desert on off-road vehicles
carried around the country in hugh white vehicles called Weekend Warrior.
It was a bit startling to be in 2013 inland SoCal again - in La Quinta,
Indio, Coachella - box stores in malls packed tight along 111, degraded
desert, roadsides thick with dried-out non-native weeds. Then S22 winding
lumpily through badland gashes with RV encampments, and then the broad -
the sublimely broad - reach of Clark Valley up between the Santa Rosas and
Coyote Mountain. Then the orange groves of Henderson Canyon Road. Many oranges
I could see from the road scarred or blighted with black rot at one end.
Then back to the little town where people over 65 are living in 1956.
Finished by the lotus or at least a complete first try at it.
Plunged into Gwen & Sel - so much motion so little focus - is
the solution slow mo - there's Gwen's sharpness and humor but what shd I
do about sound. I'm feeling what a deep editing exercise we made this
is, make something elegant of this very patchy amateurish footage, with
no rules except needing to hold attention and not be ugly. I worked all
day today, longer than I have.
Tom: "still thinking about the old folks. the more I think about
them the more sublime that sequence becomes. silence gives it the poignancy
and distance of old photos, motion vivifies the poignancy, making it immediate,
concretely ectoplasmic and haunting."
Luise Braun [my Konrad grandmother] learned to crochet in 1908 in Rückenau.
I have one of her crocheted runners under the pedestal of my monitor.
In the late afternoon today we drove to Glorietta Canyon and walked up
the draw where I gave the gods my earrings. I had the little stone heart
Tom had found on the gravel in my pocket. We walked as far as the path went
before it was blocked with stones, chose a boulder above the wash, labored
up the sandy slope. I dug a hole under the boulder with the point of my
stick. Held out my palm with the stone on it. Tom covered it with his for
an instant. I reached it under the overhang and covered it.
We'd sat alongside each other on a rock just below the boulder. Tom had
his thin hound face. He said he was remembering our wonderful times, "so
many memories." He was sitting a bit ahead of me so I could see just
the long side of his face. He was crying.
I think something hit him when he saw me pick up the little stone heart
to take with us. He was silent on the way up the pale dust road, staring
ahead. The canyon was already in shadow when we got there after 3. We parked
next to the Virgin's shrine rocks and there was the wash - I think the wash
- I'd chosen before, a beautiful sand path winding up between rising banks,
a garden with agave, desert lavender, barrel cactus, catclaw, ocotillo,
beavertail, cholla, chuparosa already beginning to bloom, brittlebush too.
We both struggled to climb the bank. We're so much older than we were.
I was using the stick, staggering and hauling up with my arms, and he was
worried about falling into a cactus. We sat looking down the valley, which
was still in golden evening light, and then crawled down and left the wash.
I said the stone heart might still be there a million years from now.
We drove very slowly back down the road in 4 wheel drive and the lowest
gear, the road now partly wrecked by last summer's flash floods. We met
a young man who stood aside to let us pass. When I was alongside him he
looked in my eyes and said very quietly Hi. Tom said he was a good
omen. I was thinking oh Tom is in ritual time. Then when we were on the
last long stretch toward the highway I saw an animal on the road ahead of
us. A coyote? A dog? It faded into the desert to the left. When we came
even with it, there it was, a dog it seemed, because it had on a yellow
collar, a handsome dog turning his head looking at us. Tom said, It's me.
He followed it a little way, stood in the desert looking after it, a tall
narrow man with silver hair.
We'd rolled so slowly down that last incline that the light was gone
by the time we got to the highway, strapped on our seat belts, put it back
into two wheel drive.
Other moments. We were lying on his bed seeing the sun slanted on the
wall. He said it reminded him of his room in Okinawa. He'd had his own room
because he was an NCO, a room half the width of this one, with slats in
the windows. He'd lie there on weekends, twenty years old, hung over, watching
a gekko climb the wall.
When I think of him as my man I get to seething with refused hope and
anger that the man I have is so incompetent, such a grabber and bullshitter,
cursing, dropping his g's, so tight-looking, with hair plastered down, belly
fat spreading in his pyjama gap, leaving a mess wherever he eats, perception
eternally tied up in old movie references, always clamouring to be praised,
flying into unjust intemperate rage. Etc. When I let him go I'm touched
at heart the way I used to be, by his long lonely story, his long faith
in me, his riffs, his company in adventure, his energy and eagerness, his
love for his own moments, his willingness to be happy wherever he is, his
realness in tears, his affection, the adventures we've had through all these
years. By how hard it is to be him, especially in the always-dissolving
fluidity of intention in him, he so controlled by his moment that he can't
form a plan and follow it through and feel a strong bridge from past to
future. It has made me feel unloved, unwanted, that he doesn't do what he
could do to have money, that he doesn't finish To the buoy, that
he doesn't write the family history he keeps saying he will write, that
he doesn't get his driver's license. But it hasn't been that, it's just
Tom, his unbearable lightness of being, the way he dissolves out from under
There was one more thing, what was it. The half hour we had sitting beside
the AA desert clubhouse liking it together, its small simple '40s design
with schoolhouse windows to the east, pale green paint under the long eaves,
nicely lettered address numbers on red boards, fine sand parking lot, tamarisks
and palms, concrete pad with picnic tables, barbecue stove.
I left Frank at Christmas too.
I have moments when I think I've never liked him and then when I lose
him - whenever I've lost him, the many times - I see and feel again the
pilgrim soul I've always adored. The tall narrow man standing with his back
to me in the desert, alone looking after a dog running west.
So now it's 1:15. He's at home feeling what he needs to feel. I've cleaned
my house and told the story.
Last light.mov. I like the track - it's moonrise distant traffic
stripped of everything above 600 and offset a bit on R and L tracks so it
becomes the sound of the mountains, dark dense standing and surging air
with a song in it, a suspended chord embedded in its fiber. I like the way
intensity shifts from side to side to make a surrounding. An acceleration
at the end. The whole piece is 7 min - slowly fading - may not have the
rate of fade yet.
9 January 2014
OB pier 5 - 3 movements. Fast slow fast, 8 minutes.
O'Brian's wonderful reach and grace. He seems to have been ashamed of
his own story - he was brutal to the wife and children he abandoned and
it seems abandoned the truth about his young self too - but built so much
truth and loving loyalty into his books, built himself able to flow out
so honorably in truthful observation and love for all of earth, that his
debts were paid - not to the victims, no, but at large - more than fully,
and long before he died. He made himself, durch sich selbst, and what kind
of story is how he did it. I read him always feeling him: what mind can
do this, what mind can know so much.
It was an ill-regulated mind and if it were
not carefully watched it would mourn Diana's death, or at least the death
of his infinitely cherished myth; a dark, bitter, monotonous grieving. Yet
the mourning was not pure - it no longer invaded him entirely, perhaps because
often and often, in the most unexpected ways, the old myth and the new reality
tended to coincide. Perhaps, he reflected, this had a certain relationship
to marriage: they had been together a very long time and although they might
essentially be strangers they were inextricably entwined. Diana Villiers:
he stared into the declining fire, and Cuvier receded, faded.
Alright: I'm going to finish laying out In English now that I
have the cover.
8 hours focused work today, hardly looked up. Layout and notes. Smitten
by play of the weather.
winter is another kind of place, leaner, less spatial-tactile,
field is two fields, loving present and rounding-up thought/realization.
Its title is exact.
Pre-print of Juliana's and my translation piece arrived tonight. It looks nice. I
like the clarity of what I said.
The Living Desert. Mountain lion. Rosy boas. Cozy badger. Turkey vulture,
roadrunners, grackle. Peccary.
The badger was lying flat as a little fur rug on the warm dirt breathing
peacefully, dozing. After a while it stretched forth two black hands with
sharp claws, laid its head down between them. There was a young woman standing
next to me against the wall who said, He's my favorite, he has a lot of
personality. What she meant was that he seemed happy and easy, a darling
The rosy boas weren't pink, they were lengthwise-striped pale copper
and silver. One was coiled loosely over the crotch of a dead branch asleep.
Most of the other's length lay along the sandy floor but its upper quarter
was held upright supporting its small diamond-shaped head so it could lie
against the other's long shoulder. The two small heads motionless close
together seemed loving, like Tom and me in our head-joined beds.
In the big tent-peaked aviary a roadrunner with a bad foot fluffed himself
up and stood still near the man with the barrel belly who brings them food.
He had a turquoise bar next to his eye. The other one was running the way
they do, beak sharply forward like someone intent to know. Meantime a sad-looking
turkey vulture with a broken right wing was hopping clumsily onto a log.
The peccary had coarse long black hair like a porcupine, trotted on little
pointed feet carrying forward what seemed a very large serious face.
I came home on S22 in the dark, Handel blasting, switching onto high
beams when I could, cutting a lit swath ahead of me through the Gothic blackness
of dips and curves feeling the strangeness of there being somewhere on the
earth's surface I was going to with so much trouble. I mean the arbitrariness
of these homes where no one is waiting for me, I suppose.
Looking at the pink lilies on the table and the iris on the modem's table
just now I was remembering hospital corridors at night with flowers set
on the floor outside the doors. They don't do that now, it's something people
may not even remember. The dim gleam of the terrazzo floors, a bulky Ukrainian
janitor pushing a large round polisher trailing a long cord, its motor's
Yesterday I was working on SketchUp again, all day fervid. I modeled
this house and then I made up an improved version of it. I furnished it.
Installed a gas fireplace, a fridge, a wall oven, a toilet, a sink, glass
doors on the washer-drier compartment. Put a plumb line here, pull up a
guideline, always specify your axis, rectangles are better than lines. When
I stopped yesterday to talk on the phone or go down to the botany society's
junk sale I was seeing geometrically as if I were modeling.
This house felt different when I stopped last night because I'd built
an alternate space in it. I was enraptured with the guestroom, where I'd
built the Mesa Grande window bookshelves and put a writing table under the
west window, painted it black, brought in a quite lovely chair.
The later pages of In English - I've sometimes known what little
thing to do with a text that's been hung up for is it now almost 40 years
but I often feel the mediocrity of the mind making the whole piece, that
it can't be fixed. At the same time I remember people who have felt something
about those pieces - and I have - so I decide to let them stand as the work
of a younger person. I keep having such opposite feelings about the whole
project, that the work is exquisite, that the work is nothing. Going forward
with it is like closing my eyes and throwing it into outer space.
or so it seems at the moment, as my fire dies
to a twist of smoke and a heap of rubies
- That's Abbey.
I open this book against the edge of the café table, sound of
traffic, taste of coffee holding in my mouth, shade of the umbrella, warm
breeze, and instantly a sense there wasn't before, of travel and sweet leisure.
There's my dusty jeep parked nose-up to the fudge shop's platform. Friday
morning. It's a young feeling, I mean a familiar one, normal, but uncommon
for a while.
So many palm trees, a lot of traffic and motion in a surrounding quiet.
It's Borrego's high season and the beginning of a long weekend. I have the
feeling I used to have in the oak tree's chair at Mesa Grande, of resting
in a vast warm bath of perfect peace.
Posted a lot of bits yesterday - 3 new photos I like - one of a little lump of rock on the desert
floor. There was good light soft from the west, sun behind a thick sheet
of haze that was luminous as a panel not a point. Chips of rock scattered
on coarse sand each so particular and lovely in that light. What I like
in the photo is that there's a narrow plane of sharp focus, narrower than
the lump of rock itself, something tactile, sharp grain on the curve of
its back and on the translucent milky bit just at its base. - Haven't said
Two from the waste ground west of Hoberg Road. The air was so milky it
the base of mountain. In both photos I've made sky of that. Sky with
faint volumes. The D50 made something subtlely lovely of the color in both.
It's a lyrical machine, it pushes colors toward pink and orange and saturates
them a bit. It's embodying a prettiness algorithm. I don't approve of that,
it flatters me, it gives me more than I saw, and yet I like that the photos
look like love. I like them on the Here2014 site. They made me interested
in the site again.
The Palms at Indian Head. Noticing what this new shirt and my hair shorter
feel like. Sunglasses. I feel like a local, I mean a California person.
Palms' ancient legs. A lot of conversation behind me so I can hardly
hear their dry quiet - what? - as if pale fine lines in the air, a faint
streaking. When the breeze comes up, more of a rattle. So dry. I like this
ledge above the valley. 5 steps above the pool deck, and then a row of palms,
and then pale desert, and then a green strip, De Anza? And then on slightly
rising ground citrus farms, and then the Coyote Mountain ridge, brown, and
behind it the higher bluer more hazed further ridge beyond Clark Valley.
The sky today has a frail tissue of cloud, I mean thin and organically
formed with a faint spine and cellular dabs, exquisite like tissue in an
Flaked paint on the edge of the roof. The palms need water. A sweet relaxed
sense - strong sense of architectural place, which is era too. Someone's
intelligence a long time ago still holding.
Second day not succeeding with the D800 but hours in desert goodness.
Wide space, open silence. Bite of my footsteps on firm sand. Chuparosa blooming,
here and there shreds of the same orange on the tips of dead ocotillo arms.
New cholla limbs shining almost white. Barrel cactus in fresh pink, most
not in bloom, a few in green circlet of bud. Desert lavender loose and foamy
swaying its bitty tips against the breeze.
I'm in El Borrego at noon. What a lot of gut buckets. What a good smell.
Why are these people eating hamburgers.
Peter Liechti The sound of insects 2009.
A Japanese man in his 40s walked for an hour carrying various supplies
to a place he remembered from an excursion when he was a student. There
he used branches and plastic to make a room in the forest. He had a radio,
some books, a notepad. On August 7 lay down on a bed of dry grass to starve
to death. It took 62 days. He was found, with the notebook, by a hunter,
some months later, not decomposed, dried to a mummy. I found the movie last
night when I was tracking a documentary about a sound recordist. Sat with
it on the big monitor for an hour and a half elated. I could see it fulfilled
the years of experimental work in film and sound; he had those experiments
as options in telling a story worth telling. There was forest, slight camera
motion finding beautiful frames. Pattern on the plastic, that got dirtier,
was rained on. There was the text's long steady interest in what it's like
to die. There was beautiful sound design, complex. Interposed super 8 material
in black and white exquisitely telecined to show grain, which I thought
must have been drawn from footage Liechti had collected over years.