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."
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.
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.
Have just posted a draft front page of Work & days.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Yes it's hot. I'm hiding out under my home oak with my head on a pillow
up against the jeep wheel.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.