volume 6 of in america: 2004 july-november  work & days: a lifetime journal project














An aura of death through most of this volume. A low point of dullness and endurance. In part 2 I make a strange new friend. In part 3 Tom shows up after a year away. In part 6 a clue to what's next.

Notes: Wendell Berry That distant land and Jayber Crow, The art of Walter Anderson, Steinbeck Log of the Sea of Cortez Tony Packer, Adrienne Rich.

Mentioned: Mary Epp, Michael Duke, Margo MacLeod, Frank Doerksen, Michael Deragon, Louie E, Tom Fendler, Juliana Borrero, Logan Burns, Leslie D, Scott M, Eric Erickson, Michael Voskamp, Amanda St John, Corin Gintner, Layla Messner, Joe Fendler, Louise G, Luke, David Amero, Layla Holguin-Messner, Robert MacLean, Jody Golick, Maggie Sutton, Chris Mills, Anna Hawkins, David Beach, Suzanne Ehst, Karen Campbell, Lise Weil, Rhoda Rosenfeld, Jam Ismail, Mark Schulman.

2720 Fifth Avenue in Banker's Hill, Pacific Beach, 5133 Dawne Street in Clairemont, 5562 Taft Avenue in La Jolla, Starbucks on Fifth, the Crest Café in Hillcrest, Hillcrest Kinko's, Ocean Beach, the Golden West Hotel, Sikora's Music in Vancouver, 5571 Bellevue in Bird Rock, 4055 Stephens at Fort Stockton, Ashnell River, Mission Hills Library, Costco in Mission Valley, 163, I15, 56, I5, I8, 805, Adams Avenue, Friars Road, Washington Street, Escondido, Felicita Road, State 78, Black Canyon Road, Indian Flats Campground, Warner Valley, Deer Springs Road, Buena Creek Gardens, Crest Café, Culp Valley, Old Castle Road, Nate Harris Grade, Palomar Road, Pauma Valley, Lake Henshaw, Borrego Springs, Mesa Grande Road, Espresso Mio on Stockton, South Mission Beach, Cardiff Beach, Whole Foods in Hillcrest, Juniper-Front Community Garden, Tacos y Papas, Lips Club, Election Central in San Diego, Bamboo Tea Room, Japatul Road, the Pine Creek trail, Alpine,

Khan Space hotel, Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris Love hurts, Everly Brothers Love hurts, LA Times, Democratic Convention, Conjunctions, Handel Italian duets, NY Times, Thomas Guide, Thomas Merton, Bruce Springsteen, Dorothy Richardson, Art Bell, Natural History Society native plant sale, Bob Herbert's Bush Blinkers column in the NYT, Ursula Le Guin, Wangari Maathai, Donna Frye, CNN, Garnier slippers, Anne Carson, Veterans' Day, Laura Schlessinger, Prairie home companion, KCRW, Lang Lang, Te Kanawa singing Mozart, Robert Duncan, Duncan Mcnaughton, Judith Butler, Paul Churchland, Eugene McCabe Heaven lies about us, Michael Ondaatje Anil's ghost, Alistair MacLeod The road to Rankin's Point, Leonard Cohen Ten new songs, Garrison Kiellor.

15 July 2004

Early afternoon, warm green waves, kids with boogie boards. I was up to my chest, and after a while I was dog paddling. I went under a breaking wave and then couldn't find bottom. I thought maybe I'd been pulled out a bit so I took a breath and stroked for shore. I still couldn't touch bottom. I could dog paddle and keep my head above water. I looked around. There were girls with a boogie board level with me, but a little further south. Quite a few other people further out, where the waves were. I shouted. The girls were looking at me but I didn't think anyone could hear me. Help! Help! Then I thought I should swim south instead of toward shore. I'm not sure exactly how it went but I think I found my feet at about the same time a girl with the boogie board passed it to me to lean on, and a lifeguard arrived. I hadn't seen him coming. He was standing waist deep and at that point so was I. "Could you see I was in trouble? I was in a hole and I couldn't touch bottom."

20th July

When I woke in the night anxious from the dream and sore and stiff, I thought of what I wrote to Louie about finding myself in the hole in the ocean, "the experience of dropping down to find the floor and there being none, and something about being among people and close to shore and in an invisible death-hole." What I was feeling was that aging is like that, what I do doesn't take effect in the way it used to. I write but not so well. I exercise but it seems I might be harming myself too much. I notice uncertainly that I've forgotten things that have happened very recently.

21 July

I don't want what I saw in Rob and feel in my own face, that bleak grim hard look of being settled into isolation. It's a kind of anger.

How to live in this phase, over sixty. Options: religious devotion, younger man, grandchildren, dog. I laugh when I say the last one.

3rd August

Have just posted a draft front page of Work & days.

5th August

During the night when I woke I had a fantasy - that is not the right word, and 'image' isn't either - a sensation - of being up to my neck in the ocean, unable to feel bottom and too far out to be able to reach the shore, done for. The ocean is death.

6 August

I'm not quite sixty but I'm starting to think of myself as sixty, as if that's the next stage and I might as well get on with it. 60-80 is early old age, sixty is old in the sense that death is in the air of it. I'm having to think about heart disease. I notice mistakes of attention and memory that startle me.

17 August

In his monologue I did like the way, when he told a story involving a pigeon, a juvenile ferruginous hawk, a prairie falcon and a golden eagle, he acted out the parts of all the birds. - Oh I forgot to say he also insisted I should bring along my pillow cases because that's the best thing for transporting snakes if you find some. I said no.

I'm under oaks waiting out the heat, another couple of hours maybe. There are sudden winds. The air flowing into the shade from the sun is freighted with heat and scent. I've had to put my socks back on because wasps are interested in whatever is between my toes.

I've been lonesome and grouchy and then something will catch my eye.

The oaks are full of buzz and give out occasionally a single dry skitter when they let go an old leaf.

Yum garlic sausage stew.

What is the smell when I crush an ant - almost a plastic smell

The redshanks are messy things. They don't have the compact shapely glamour of manzanita (which has berries now, dark red, and so is even more beautiful), and at first I thought they spoiled the landscape with their red-brown dead stuff held aloft among the plumes of yellowish-green new growth, the whole thing looking too chartreuse for this oak-grove and that grey-green scrub. But yesterday I sat looking into a stand of redshanks with the binocs, and what I saw was its interior light. If I look into the plant's space - this is like being in the little golden room between the salvia greggii and the mountain marigold - I see quite a golden somewhere. Yesterday when it had cooled and I was on a sand ridge looking down a bank I opened my eye onto a blue glitter of the greasewood below. It had the bitty reflectivity of the decomposed granite itself. I thought that was the light particular to greasewood.

I'm not sure I'm not making this up, but it makes sense that the surface forms and textures of any plant will set up specific resonant intensities. Maybe in a redshank canopy the stems are reflecting wavelengths those needle-like leaves (ie absorbent all the way around) will want to take in. Say they are internally reflecting a lot of that yellowy-green. The whole canopy is singing at that pitch. So is the messy dry stuff in the redshanks there because it's feeding the plant light? Anyway redshanks is a particular kind of temperament, helter-skelter but luminous. A lot of grass in its litter-skirt.

I like the pale coral color of the buckwheat flowers with the silvers of the larger buckwheat (I think) and white sage. They seem often to grow together.

It's quieter by day than by night.

Beavertail spines are good toothpicks.

What is it about oaks. They are dark and dense. The way those leaves are convex - is that it? - convex and small, thick, dark, stiff and where left alone reaching to the ground - gives the tree - that one, in front of me - an impenetrable density. An establishment tree, buzzing with manufactury. It's pulling in rather than giving off. But it does speak, in its dry light rattle, to every shift of air.

The air has a thick quality.

I was looking across the thick scrub in this bowl thinking the landscape of people has that mixture of kinds and accidentalness of individual structure, some shrubs half dead, some trees with limbs torn off by a flash flood. I am not able easily to tolerate the complexity.

There are strong abrupt gusts that clean the oak by sweeping it.

That little bird just swooped down and took my manzanita berry! (Off the table.)

Yes it's hot. I'm hiding out under my home oak with my head on a pillow up against the jeep wheel.

27 September

What the journal writing really shows will be phenomenological flux - the unsettledness of opinion - the great unsettledness of identity - and more than that, it studies the manner of and reasons for this instability.

I would love to have Wachtel asking me these questions and in a way I do. I'm having to answer them ahead of time to the best I can imagine.

The instability of reading - oh that.

11 October

No one replying to my pedagogy letter. If I want people to reply I have to be more deferential. I have turned out to be the program's heavy hitter. The rules in this game say that if you hit the ball out of the park everyone goes away and leaves you staring at the lights on your own.

I've just sighed because that has happened a lot in this program. It happens all day long with the students, but it happens with faculty too. I was going to say I'm still in La Glace Alberta but in La Glace Alberta I withheld. Now I don't withhold, I hit the ball, but I do it in a space of my own. Sub specie aeternitatus. As if witnessed by someone larger than whoever I have available. I carry that solitude around with me, it's my aura.

In bed last night I was listening to a man on Art Bell who was saying he was born into a family of Satan worshippers who tortured him into giving up his soul so it could be replaced by the family demon. The purpose of the transaction was to gain wealth and power in this world. (His people were churchgoers.) When he was 17 he was institutionalized as insane and there saw soul theft - people from one day to another made tractable and robotic and sent home. In one of his out-of-body travels he was shown a crystal city on the moon, which is the depot harvested souls are shipped through. In 2000 he prayed to god to help him and god did; he spoke within him and said he was his loving father.

Maybe the crystal city on the moon is the brain. Are people ever crazy all the way through? It says no. This man was more or less sane but he was trying to make up a metaphysics that would account for his experience. He doesn't have a basic framework to accommodate <symbolic meaning> - do I have another way to say that - I had to do quite a long apprenticeship in whatever that is - it is part of the itinerary - I've ended not being very interested in it but had to work through a captivation.

As if one of the things Work & days can show is an itinerary for female intelligence that is quite other than the schools'.

Okay so I'm at [my college] working out an educational philosophy primarily for women - is that it?

24 October

Everywhere [in the countryside] the smart people exiting, the way we did, because we could. So the Electoral College enfanchises the stupid disproportionately. That's why the US is more backward than Canada or Europe, is it as simple as that? In some states by a factor of four to one.

Reintegrate the smart people into small communities and even churches. Could web jobs do that? It's true the communities are too sorted, so that the urban tip into corruption.

November 1

Stepping into the shower I'm telling someone that I regard my body now wondering which part is going to kill me - the sticky cervix, the breast, the little black spot on the back of the thigh (that is, the skin), the heart speeding when I use the pick, the veins in my shin. I also wonder which part will ensure that I'm repulsive - my ass, my hands, my teeth, my waist, the lines above my upper lip. And which part will make me helpless and stupid - my eyes, my brain, my bones, my right foot.


I know this isn't good writing.

I can do the student writing still. What's the difference. Public voice. It's a good public voice, has my qualities of tonal flex and concision. But what. Out of the habit of intimacy, out of the habit of intimacy, yes.

So now I'm brushing my teeth and going to bed.

November 2

Writing to Larry I unpacked 'spiritual' as realness in feeling and connections.

I think generally it means a whole complex of real feeling values; denial and therefore unconsciousness; and then a setup that contains and limits contact with them in a segregated enclave. 'Separation of church and state.'

So one doesn't want to deny 'the spiritual' with people, because it includes their realness, but one also wants gently to point to the fantasy conclusion it is being used to support. And mainly one should encourage dwelling in the experience without jumping to metaphysical conclusions. Reconnect and there will be pain, expect it, endure it as the religious essence, reconnection always within the body.

November 11

Am I beginning to know what this plainness is for, this plain time. I'm saying that after waking at 4:30 and working on the Orpheus pages. And starting to look at notes from before I went back to school. Does it have to be a very plain bare time to be able to go back to what I left unused, as resolved as I could get it, but unused. I did a lot of sorting and summarizing at the end, and here it is.

I don't know what to do with it. The mythic feeling and analytic/sorting aren't yet agreed on a form or manner and yet they are both interested. Should I say that differently. I disapprove, the sorting self disapproves, of the metaphor and is ravished by its beauty.

November 12

I like the way the last part of the search section is conversation. I love the conversations I find. I like the dialectical structure, something is lost and in the search for it something else is made, so that when what was lost is found it is joined to the larger structure made by searching, and the result is mature completeness rather than the young completeness of the beginning. I like the way art is included as one of the groping not-yet-effective forms of search, along with addiction. I don't know what to do with the way addiction's materials are so beautiful. Intellection. So it is turning out to be an autobiography in verse. Romance, intellection, art and then therapy which I call conversation. So it is a companion to Work & days. The digest. But it's not called Orpheus, because that's just one of the stories, the art story. Do they each have a myth?

It has to also be thinking about myth, because it is. The feeling in myth, the bare naked beauty.

November 18

Then we sat on a bench at his other little park and saw a century-plant stalk rising with palm and fennel and a hummingbird. He said he thinks of me in my little house and feels he isn't doing enough. I said yes, my life is isolated and grim and meager. It used to be quite rich. I jumped and I haven't landed yet. But it isn't his fault and it isn't for him to fix. I have to stay in the grimness until I find where to land. That was good, I liked being able to say it.

November 20th

I was lying on the floor near a giraffe who was also lying on the floor. There was music coming from outside, through the window beyond him. I saw that his neck was swaying. He put out his long foreleg and touched me with it, so soft a touch. A velvet touch. We could lie down on the bed together for the rest of the afternoon.

When I woke I thought the long-necked benign being is the book.

November 24th

Evening. I put on Te Kanawa singing Mozart and am looking at pictures in my butterfly book and find myself with my lips swelling. It's Michael. The butterflies and the way he himself is a butterfly. His soft stubborn rectitude of selfness. Opening the door onto him holding a bouquet of ephedra and aloe cuttings. His long thin wrists. The figure he cuts from behind. The way he never slouches, but reads newspapers with a beautiful straight back. The pain in his smile. The music is opening my heart to him. Someone who has given his time to knowing what is in the world, Grey Hairstreak, so beautiful in form, Lorquin's Admiral, California Sister, Northern Cloudywing, Fiery Skipper. The way, the first time I touched his arm, he said, You have a very light touch. His loneliness. His privacy. His very soft intolerance. "I told you." The way butterflies are extremely beautiful but have nasty little faces -

What is it I feel about Michael's being. Offended. He's an offended boy.

A born gentleness. He has an immense true gentleness. Why do tears come to my eyes when I say that?

It is as if life is walking a knife edge in him.