Very Short Cycles
At Rialto Beach, about as as far west as you can get in the mainland states, five thousand miles of ocean throw down their weight and foam sideways like milk. The sand drinks everything but the topmost skin, which turns transparent and retreats in a solar scatter until it’s drawn beneath the flickering curtain of the next wave’s shadow. In the late light their undersides come high and midnight blue.
I spent three nights on the Olympic Peninsula, trying to fix a pivot to the end of this novel that’s been going on almost five years. J. had sent me John Luther Adams writing about his studio, so I thought about that, and about Xie Lingyun, ate a lot of salad and Greek yogurt from the local grocery and was able in general to keep my head quiet. I had brought a couple of books but the American ones were too close to my own project and I ended up taking refuge in Das Schloss, which I’d grabbed on impulse on my way out the door, not having read it end-to-end in twenty years and never in German. It turns out to be a good text for a hiatus from a job.
»Es ist schwer mit euch«, sagte K. und verglich wie schon öfters ihre Gesichter, »wie soll ich euch denn unterscheiden? Ihr unterscheidet euch nur durch die Namen, sonst seid ihr einander ähnlich wie« – er stockte, unwillkürlich fuhr er dann fort -, »sonst seid ihr einander ja ähnlich wie Schlangen.« Sie lächelten. »Man unterscheidet uns sonst gut«, sagten sie zur Rechtfertigung. »Ich glaube es«, sagte K., »ich war ja selbst Zeuge dessen, aber ich sehe nur mit meinen Augen, und mit denen kann ich euch nicht unterscheiden. Ich werde euch deshalb wie einen einzigen Mann behandeln und beide Artur nennen, so heißt doch einer von euch. Du etwa?« – fragte K. den einen. »Nein«, sagte dieser, »ich heiße Jeremias.« – »Es ist ja gleichgültig«, sagte K., »ich werde euch beide Artur nennen. Schicke ich Artur irgendwohin, so geht ihr beide, gebe ich Artur eine Arbeit, so macht ihr sie beide, das hat zwar für mich einen großen Nachteil, daß ich euch nicht für eine gesonderte Arbeit verwenden kann, aber dafür den Vorteil, daß ihr für alles, was ich euch auftrage, gemeinsam ungeteilt die Verantwortung tragt. Wie ihr untereinander die Arbeit aufteilt, ist mir gleichgültig, nur ausreden dürft ihr euch nicht aufeinander, ihr seid für mich ein einziger Mann.« Sie überlegten das und sagten: »Das wäre uns recht unangenehm.« – »Wie denn nicht«, sagte K., »natürlich muß euch das unangenehm sein, aber es bleibt so.«
(as Anthea Bell puts it:)
‘I’m going to have a hard time with you two,’ said K., comparing their faces yet again. ‘How am I to know which of you is which? The only difference between you is your names, and apart from that’—he hesitated—‘apart from that you’re as like as two snakes.’ They smiled. ‘Oh, other people find it easy to tell us apart,’ they said. ‘I believe you,’ said K. ‘I’ve seen that for myself, but then I have only my own eyes, and I can’t distinguish between you with those. So I shall treat you as a single man, and call you both Artur, which is the name of one of you—you, perhaps?’ K. asked one of the assistants. ‘No,’ he said, ‘my name is Jeremias.’ ‘Well, never mind that,’ said K, ‘I shall call you both Artur. If I send Artur somewhere you’ll both go, if I give Artur a job to do you’ll both do it, which from my point of view will be a disadvantage in that I can’t employ you on separate tasks, but also an advantage because then I can hold you jointly responsible for everything I ask you to do. How you divide the work between you is all the same to me, only you can’t make separate excuses. To me you’ll be just one man.’ They thought this over and said: ‘We wouldn’t like that at all.’ ‘Of course not,’ said K. ‘Naturally you’re bound to dislike it, but that’s how it’s going to be.’
The cabin sat among huge ahistorical trees and had a river for its backyard; the whole peninsula is full of rivers. I've never lived near moving water except in Iowa, and that river was wide and slow, not at all the same thing. I spent hours writing on the bank while the morning mists burned off, dew collected on leaves, small gray birds (I still don’t know what they were) skimmed the water for bugs, and fogs blew in that were almost rain, though real rain fell only at one point overnight. The first night was the difficult one, settling in alone next to the electric heater mocked up to look like a wood stove. I don’t know if Xie Lingyun had a family with him in his retreat, but I suspect it. I know that Bai Juyi did:
When I look up, there are only clouds and trees;
When I look down--only my wife and child.
It was Bai who seemed prosaic and weak on first reading, but after some time seemed to be working toward an opening up of the ordinary, like Wordsworth. I don’t know; those comparisons stretch pretty far. It can’t really be accurate to take “Chinese recluse” as “disengaged modernist” either. I can’t do nothing, nor can I leave nothing undone; one can’t stay alone indefinitely among the ferns.
It was a “writing trip,” not a “hiking trip” (either alternative utilitarian in its way, a habit from years of scant time); still it was hard to call a halt at any particular point on the rainforest trail, hard to take my notebook out of my bag and treat the trail for that hour as another river instead of a path whose purpose was to lead somewhere; this although I knew perfectly well that it couldn’t lead anywhere in particular, since I wasn’t going to make the fifteen miles to the glaciers.
I did get far enough up the Hoh valley to glimpse Mount Olympus between the nearer peaks. The west-facing glacier seemed small; I don’t know its history but I must be one of the last to see it. Impossible not to call up a Hölderlin picture of the gods in their ice halls preparing to turn into vapor, Sublimierung. And what’s left is moss, and the elk that both Roosevelts in series set up the park to protect.
I was surprised that their movements were so much like smaller deer, but I’m always surprised at how deer move. A fellow I met on the trail told me it was a lucky thing no bulls were in the herd; this was rutting season. I once had a dry spring a year long, when I had moved back to Arizona, spent days in the mountains at liberty and put them to work on a novel that was an imitation of novels I didn’t even like much. Summer was farther afield, espresso and wine at sidewalk tables paid for with strange colorful money, in a more or less haltingly borrowed language; all those bookstores (llibreria, Antiquariat, charmed words) that went into the library which we’re still trying to figure out how to shore against the quake; and I got The Drowned Library out of it.
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
Autumn is earthier and gets mud on your shoes. All in all I’m glad of the feel of it, and of the assurance that there are longer cycles and slower movements detectable under the quick flux of water. The bank that seems fixed meanders a long way in its life. When land and sea shift such that there’s no longer a river, that also is in the nature of things.
Neko Case, Mountain Winery, 9.4.15
“Thank you for coming to see us at this… mountainside… citadel, brought to you by the cheapest wine from the eighties. No, really, I used to drink so much Paul Masson—I know it's not his winery any more—”
“That was Eric Bachmann. He was a-shreddin. Acoustically. Kind of. He practiced that.”
“John’s laughing at me. I have this picture where I stuck a bunch of tampons in John’s beard. It’s like having a German shepherd around—‘okay, you’re doing that, whatever, just stick a bunch of tampons in my fur.’”
“The beards are back! They’re framing me like I’m the emperor Justinian or some shit. Like lions—it’s called heraldic grouping. That's art history class. We are heraldically grouped for you.”
“I wanna sex you up!—that’s one of the melodies that is in my head at all times.”
“I’m doing these two songs one after the other just to prove that I can still tune a guitar. That’s the thing about letting dudes tune your guitar, you look like a total douchebag when you try to do it yourself.” [Starts, stops song.] “Shit.”
“I lost it during that one. ‘I touch, comma, touch you’; only Scott Walker can say that. Seriously, some lines are so cunty, you need this man who looks like the guy from Logan’s Run before the run, holding a tiny, catheter-sized microphone—”
“Dan Hunt, our drummer, is not here. When he joined the band I asked him, so what, are you going to have kids or anything, and he said, I don't want any fuckin’ kids. So, he has a one-month-old baby at home. I reminded him and he said, I knew I had to say that to get in your band. She's very cute. I’m kind of glad he had her.”
We’re tigers. Oh look, I see some prey. It’s a mouse. I bet it’s really juicy. Catch! Mm, juicy. Here you go. Actually we’re leopards. I see… a turtle that is already dead. Pretend our favorite things are mouses and turtles. Mm. Now I’m going to get your coffee boot. Here’s my coffee boot and mama leopard’s coffee boot and daddy leopard’s coffee boot. Can I see the clippers? The chain is so interesting. Okay, can I play with your watch? This is called the… watcheedood. We use it to look at the time and to put more coffee in our coffee boots. It’s exactly seven o’clock. I folded it very nicely. Did you know that it folds like this? Where’s your... what did I say it was? The coffeedood. Watcheeboot. The coffee boot. Here is some more coffee.
My hypothalamus has been trying to cook the rest of my head. This is pausing and thinking of a sort, or it bears the same relation to thinking that undirected noodling bears to actual songs.
Our lemon tree is weathering the drought OK, so far. Half a lemon squeezed into a liter of bubbly water is how I get fighting fit to climb the stairs.
I had notes for a Father’s Day post, on that ceremonial feeling of undesert: you can’t do everything you have to do, and family life, much more than a job, stifles the admitting of it. There is no multitasking, the Pauli exclusion principle, etc.
(Shout from the bathtub: “How do you… make HAM!?”)
Also in that post I would have noted the mourning doves who are nesting on the porch joist outside our back door. I don’t know if they’re the same ones we saw attempting to conceive on the back fence (always awkward, a bird trying to hover-mount long enough to realize the goal), but these are a model couple in their shared incubation. I’ve seen the shift change in the early evening; a wing whistle announces the incoming partner, the outgoing stands and does an old-man shuffle along the joist, head pressed into the corner of the roof, until it finds room to take off. I’m not sure which is which. Male Zenaida macroura are supposed to be larger and “more colorful,” but they all look large and colorful when they’re a foot away on the porch joist, pale blue eye-ring framing that still stare while you go beneath to take out the trash, big dumb groundling that doesn’t see them.
He rests. He has traveled.
Ruby on Rails and Perl on Pails and Java on Jails and SQL on Sails and Android on Ales and Github on Gales and Wordpress on Whales and Homebrew on Hails and Travis on Trails and Bamboo on Bails and LDAP on Llails and xmlTextReaderSchemaValidateCtxt on Phthails.
Going to a dark bed there was a map onto a space of sets of loops in groups of the night of all open and closed loops over groups in the map onto space of Expressionable the Nth.
The 1973 Disney Robin Hood left R. prostrate over the rhinoceros follies, and made her ask about the Crusades.
—There was a particular special city called Jerusalem;
—I have to poop right now.
This led to questions about God, which we define as a “powerful spirit” since the concept is familiar from Amulet.
―There were lots of things people didn’t know, so they’d ask “Why are there earthquakes?” and say “Maybe the spirit is angry,” and “Why does rain fall our gardens? Maybe the spirit is helping us,” and “Why is there a world? Why are there any people at all? Where did the first―”
―This is way more mindblowing than my version; I just talked about history.
She has a scooter, but the quickest entertainment is to take her anywhere at all on public transit.
—Caltrain sounds like California! I never even realized that!
Sleater-Kinney, Nob Hill Masonic, 2015.05.02
Man, I would have been less picky about The Woods ten years ago if I had known how little of its sort was coming after, and how well those songs would age in an empty field. I know they’ve been busy with television and such in this long interim; still they seemed to have popped right out of a time capsule, sharp as ever, from a time when we were hungrier in order to ask why we’d stopped being hungry.
“Let’s Call It Love” still isn’t my favorite, but this is just something about me and blues-rock. I remember when MC5: A True Testimonial had a showing in Portland and Corin went ape over it; it’s a mode. They did make the guitar solo jump around more than I remembered. Everything pounded. Anyway, Greil Marcus continues to have been right about “Start Together,” and they are my Joey Ramone.
I can’t hold attention all the way through these recent Swans double-deckers, but I do love the backing vocals that come into this one at 4:10.
I also remember above all else an occasion—I bring it up because there is something of an engineer’s touch to it—in which during an entire dinner [Benet] torturously held me in suspense over the issue of how to tell me with the most flair that he had enjoyed one of my novels. And on that occasion—on which I remember that Blanca Andreu was present, as well as another friend—he began by telling me “Well then, this novel, yes, it is fine, what’s happened is that you’ve committed a tremendous, truly unpardonable error in this book and, you see, well the book isn’t what it might have been.” I became terrified, because when someone is your mentor and you take his opinion as the most important response to the appearance of your new book, well, you take in every word; and I began to think that he was going to raise an objection to its structure, or its very conception, that he was going to tell me that its style was horrendous, and he said, “There is a serious problem because there is a moment when you talk about a railway bridge”—and that was the only thing he had written down on the note he had in front of him—“a railway bridge, and you go on to describe it in the following way: ‘The wide river of blue waters, broken by the long bridge of diagonally crossed iron’”; he said, “and of course, that cannot be, because, how could you not have realized that this bridge is,” and I am very sorry, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he said something that was completely incomprehensible to me, let’s say that he said that the bridge was a bridge of policated beams of blecarian misipication, “And of course if you had said that it was a bridge of policated beams of blecarian misipication [un puente de vigas pudeladas de mispiquel a leberquisa], well, then the novel would have been quite different, how great indeed would your novel have been if you had said this.”
—Javier Marías, “Acto de homenaje a Juan Benet,” tr. Benjamin Fraser in Understanding Juan Benet
I started reading the latest from James Salter and had one of these complete failures of cross-generational sympathy; it was Virginia Woolf trying to get through Hilda Lessways all over again.