10-7-12: Dipped my toe into various streams yesterday, a little of this, a little of that. Just warming up before I head off in one direction or another. Whichever direction I take will only make a circle leading me back to here and now, but describing circles is quite enough for me. I’m not trying to get anywhere except where I am.
Fuck, I feel fantastic. Just vacuumed in here and cleaned the windows for the first time in years. My view out is clear and bright. Spruced up the rest of the house a bit as well. I have a strong sense of freedom and scope, a world open to my efforts, a place where I can do my work and make my mark, even if I’m only a kid crayoning on the wall. Just read CE’s new essay, “The Green Man,” and that’s pretty thrilling too. There’s another thing I’ve always wanted, and now clearly have, a community of writers to associate with.
I have two theories of how to relax about waiting for a response to an email. One is to have so many outstanding that I can’t obsess about any particular reply. And the other is to realize that for people likely to check their email on a smartphone rather than a computer, any substantial communication, unless quickly read and replied to, will be swamped in the flood of incoming, imperative messages. The discursive email, having superseded the written letter, is now superseded by the text message. It’s going the way of parchment and quill. But I’m happy to remain old-fashioned, content to be left behind.
10-8-12: At the Clark briefly yesterday, I pulled restocking for decent weekend sales, but had no thought of shelving them myself, so they’ll sit on the cart for a day or two. No skin off my nose. Mostly I went through my own inbox of email over the past two weeks, deleting the bulk and replying to those that needed a reply, particularly Curtis and Images folk. Today my first stop on the way in will be WCMA, to select my artwork to write about. It would be a surprise to me if I made it to the Clark courtyard. It may be worth doing an Ingram order, however. I am anticipating a spurt of organizing activity over the weekend, while CE is away, though for all I know it’s just as likely to happen in this room as in the Clark courtyard. What the latter has going for it is the hourly billing, which will be needed this month.
Really, the only sunny afternoon in the past fortnight was the one I had film screenings scheduled. It’s gray again today, though the clouds are not so low. Most leaves are down in the yard, and I spent some time yesterday raking with CE. The foliage reached its traditional peak on this Columbus Day weekend, but the spectacle wasn’t lit up by sunshine. Plenty of daylight in this room, however, with the screens down and the windows Windexed. One day the sun will pour through and illuminate all.
I’m still hanging out with Leonard, but the rock star period is the least fun to go through. I look forward to the zen period, and the geriatric comeback, when I became a latecomer to the party, through the documentary I’m Your Man (not coincidentally the title of the bio I’m reading). And yesterday, I managed to read my 1977 letter to Jesse without embarrassment – it certainly wasn’t calculated for the ends it sought, but was nonetheless a sincere and meaningful piece of work. It might wind up amplified and transformed in a series of “Appreciations” I sometimes think of putting together, but only if I have time left after my other two books in progress are done. These days, when listening in the car, I’m mixing some Winchester and Cohen with my Marley.
10-9-12: What am I about today? Don’t know, but I’ll figure it out. Stayed up till 4:30 this morning, following Leonard Cohen’s life to the present. His septuagenarian revival is certainly an inspiration to all of us in our sixties. He is indeed my man, as he is for millions, but I barely registered his name till five or six years ago, so I make no claim to be a superfan, but simply an ardent admirer. Glad to know him better, don’t think I’ve got to the bottom of him yet.
I enjoyed my visit to WCMA yesterday. There was an attractive Sol LeWitt exhibition and the permanent collection had been interestingly juggled. By email I offered the PR person a choice of my writing about either an Inness painting from 1860, or the original Lawrence Hall rotunda plus large portrait of the benefactor, and I await her preference if any.
At the Clark I went ahead and placed an Ingram order, going through my file drawer of vendor catalogues and selecting most of my new titles for this season. They will take some hours to check in later this week. When CE is away next weekend, I hope to make some headway in courtyard, beginning an overall refreshment of displays that will hold the shop till next summer, since it now seems the bookstore will be open through then (though the new fixtures will never be installed, as far as I can see from my underground bunker).
Well, that’s provoking. I went looking for a book about Seneca Falls, which I might be prompted to read by last night’s viewing of a Ken Burns documentary on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but even though it wasn’t that long ago that I set it aside for future perusal, I couldn’t find the volume. That’s a sad commentary for an old bookseller. Forget the Clark courtyard, the bookshelves I need to clean and organize are my own, maybe even before I get to the detritus of obsolete media covering the floor, and certainly before my filing drawers. I’m betting I spend a lot of time in this room over the winter, and that it will look quite different come spring. I want my physical files and documents to be as organized and accessible as my virtual, my objects as much in order as my mind.
Another thing I’m geared up to do is get back into Brown Book compilation. I’ve been reading a miscellaneous file of material from early 1977, preparing to boil it down to bridge a gap in my journal, which should not be very problematic. I’ve also made a token start on my W.C. Bryant timeline.
We haven’t had a hard frost yet, but have had fires in the woodstove the past two nights, with more overcast weather predicted, temperatures peaking in the mid-50s and flirting with freezing at night. Winter is coming. Despite the dread that accumulates around that phrase as the motto of the Stark clan in Game of Thrones (even worse, another dynasty’s motto is “The night is dark and full of terrors”), I do not face the change of season with horror or regret, though I am of an age to wonder whether I will ever see another spring, one more round of rebirth, one more renewal of life force.
As I say, I envision myself hunkering down in this room and getting things done, mentally and physically. If my finances stabilize with Social Security and additional work of some kind, then I will definitely use a new and connected computer as an incentive to put this room into shape as a genuine workroom. So my general direction is clear enough, if not my day-to-day priorities. But right this minute my direction is out the door for a walk.
10-10-12: Highly miscellaneous, without focus but not without purpose, I continue to occupy myself with this and that, and the weather remains gray and drippy. Unfortunately, the WCMA person did not make my decision for me, so I still have to choose my subject; will go back for a second look at both, then make up my mind; should only be a matter of hours, and I have two weeks, but this is one item I want to tick off my list easily. It’s not as if this squib is dragging me away from something other writing I am deep into.
A similar indecisiveness about what to read next was remedied by the arrival of advance reading copies of Phillip Lopate’s two new books, just a few days after I emailed his publicist. He is one of the correspondents who actually replied to an email from me, and said he got a kick out of reading my recent blog entries. Likewise I get a kick out of his essays.
I’m meeting Nada at the coffee shop this afternoon, but will probably miss my third straight public programs meeting tomorrow. Not sure how transportation will work on days CE is gone. No matter what, I will have time at my disposal – wonder how I’ll dispose it? I may give Mike and/or Kevin a call about going out for a beer, or coming over.
10-11-12: I am temporarily uncertain what I am about. I have a cartful of books to process at the Clark and a programming meeting this afternoon, but transportation is not simple. Yesterday I lingered in the coffee shop with Nada and then went directly over to visit Rach, before picking up CE at the end of her library shift, and today is supposed to be mostly sunny for a change, though it doesn’t seem that way yet. Still thinking on two tracks about art writing, I need another trip to WCMA to make up my mind. Uncertain, yes, about how the days will work out, but certain that they will work out to my reasonable satisfaction, barring the unforeseen — and unforestallable — disaster.
I think a longish hike — or maybe a pair of contrasting walks — is on the agenda. Even more after enjoying chat with Nada, I’m thinking of making dates with Mike, Kevin, and two different women, old Either/Or employees who might network me to writing/editing jobs in Pittsfield. That’s next week or beyond, however, my priorities for the next stretch of days are bookstore work (gotta bill more than forty hours for the month, and so far I’m not on pace) and art-writing (I don’t add to my pressure by thinking of it as a writing sample attached to the resume I sent to WCMA director).
This miscellaneous existence allows me to address some tiny niggling chores that would otherwise accumulate into a wearisome backlog of things to do, paper to shuffle, chores to which I need to put my hand (and sometimes even my brain). Frankly, I’m aware that I am falling behind again with filmlog, but I am also 100% (okay, 93.82%) sure of my ability to catch up whenever the occasion arises, probably at the next email distribution to film club.
10-12-12: I need to spend some miscellaneous hours at the Clark as I have here at home, taking care of those last little things that keep me from feeling totally caught up. I’ve got Rachel’s car for the next four days, which puts me on call as chauffeur or companion, but gives me more opportunity to schedule time at the Clark (or at WCMA!). I expect (without setting up expectation) to spend a good deal of time, and most of my attention, there. There’s no pressure, either from inside out or outside in, here at the keyboard.
So am I waiting for something else to turn up, or should I be digging it up myself? I’ve got to leave the question open, as well as what the theme of this satulation might be, though “Idling” is a distinct possibility. Speaking of open-ended personal writing, I’m jumping around in both of Phillip’s books, relishing the intimacy of the experience, the way he illumines my life by explicating his, all the amusing comparisons and contrasts. Not to mention how such skipping around fits my miscellaneous mood of the moment.
Reading Phillip’s essays leads naturally to rereading my own, thinking of sending one to him in return, and I’m struck by how exactly we’re doing the same thing, better or worse as the case may be, but with remarkably similar approach. So I will send him another sample, “This Sporting Life,” and see how he responds. The ideal reaction of course would be to pass it along to his agent with a recommendation, but I don’t count on that. As long as we keep up an intermittent conversation, I will be happy.
I don’t know what will happen next — less interested in the triumph of the will than its vanquishing, trying to learn from Leonard’s “manual for living with defeat” – but I’d love to feel square with both museums by next week, leaving me to confront any big project I please, even if it’s only as Sisyphean as stacking wood.
10-13-12: Fuck, I don’t feel all that fantastic. Beside the chronic self-doubt, I have discomfort in leg, back, and teeth. I’m old, I’m weak, I’m useless. Lazy, shallow, selfish. I need to write a sentence that will make me happy again. I need to sentence myself to craft, totally leaving aside the question of art.
Hard frost overnight, but a perfectly blue sky this morning, a real rarity these days. Soon I’ll pop some IB and go for a walk. First things first, however, and that means achieving some wordcount. Lack of inner motivation does not always prevent work getting done. (Leonard: “I don’t trust my inner feelings / inner feelings come and go.”) I wasn’t very eager to go underground when I got to the Clark yesterday, but once there, I churned through a ton of new books. I would have liked the leisure to look them over more carefully, but had to keep the assembly line of data entry moving. And I fit the task perfectly to the time allotted. Timeliness is an implicit product of mastery.
I’m saving myself some time each day since I can’t bear to look at election news after the fallout of the first debate. I still hope the fiercely competitive Obama can come back and take the next two debates, to regain a decisive lead, but I can’t watch a replay of 1980, where telegenic acting and breezy disdain for fact trumps sincerity and seriousness.
Thoughts of a Romney presidency elicit a Spenglerian gloom. While a rational part of me says he didn’t really bother me much as governor of this commonwealth, did not truly impinge on my life, I can’t help but believe that he would lead this country into disastrous decline as a civilized society.
Taking the long view and subscribing to the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium, what sort of punctuation does humankind represent for planet earth – dash? period? question mark?
Ah, see, I can keep up a line of patter no matter what. It’s sentence-making, if not writing. Pure pleasure, for one person at least. The definition of masturbation, but who cares? Despite lacking tenure or a dozen books to my credit, I can approach Phillip Lopate as an equal, a fellow laborer in the vineyard. Of course the worm of self-doubt could hollow me out again, but I’m remarkably confident that I will be writing fluently as long as I have my wits about me. And I’m pretty sure my engagement with various writing projects will keep my wits about me longer than they linger with some.
[Later] Now I’m sorted. Plan perfectly clear. First I’m hiking to my spot, then going to Williamstown, first stop WCMA, then dividing my time between Rachel and the Clark. Tomorrow less conducive to outdoors activity, I’ll do laundry and writing in the morning, probably art piece and then letter to Bob and Tony. Go into Clark for 4-6 hours. Visit Rach. In evening lift a few with Kevin and Mike at various Pittsfield dives. Monday morning head to Clark as early as feasible, and put in 6-8 hours. After that, clear sailing to the horizon. Is that sound I hear God’s chuckle as he listens to my plan? Or is it the susurration of the breeze shaking the last tenacious leaves on the trees?
[Later] Plan immediately modified. For some reason I wound up writing that letter to Bob and Tony, though I’ll definitely wait several days before sending it. So I’m one step ahead of the game, but will have to take a shorter walk than I imagined.
10-14-12: The weather outside is back to wet and gloomy, but inside my head is light and airy. I could berate myself for passing up the Clark altogether yesterday, or the unlikelihood of my putting in 10-14 hours there over the next two days. But I won’t and I don’t. So sue me. If I were a real asshole, I’d bill the Clark for the hour I spent yesterday writing about the situation there. At this point I just want to get back to my old give and take with the Clark – “I give them more than their money’s worth, and I take no crap.”
So I went out on my walk, headed uphill instead of toward my spot, but surging to the top of the lower field on such a splendid day, continued up to the visitor center and into the woods. By the time I got back, it was time to visit Rach, so I skipped WCMA, but afterwards managed to get there before closing, and really enjoyed a brief museum visit focused on just a couple of objects. I could definitely write about the Inness painting, but finally settled on the Lawrence Hall rotunda. I’ll reread my own history of the building and revisit one more time, trying to get access to the lower level, for whatever remains of the original structure. I still have lots of time before it’s due, and the writing won’t take long, so I’m open to a period of research and rumination on the subject.
Upon leaving the college museum, I would have had less than an hour underground at the Clark, and wisely decided to go in the opposite direction, to the top of Mount Hope to catch the sunset. Today in contrast is not a day to regret burrowing in, so I expect to be headed back to Williamstown by noon.
10-15-12: Another awfully gloomy morning today, yet yesterday afternoon cleared up remarkably. It turned so sunny and mild that Rach even ventured out of doors for a little while at Mt. Hope. I also read her a chapter from Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith, both of us enjoying its hilarious hometruths immensely, in direct contrast to Dreamland, whose interesting subject was covered in such lackluster prose that we stopped reading in the middle (though the book sold from the sale table the same day I put it out).
I only billed three hours at the Clark, but cleared up a lot of loose ends. My expectations for today are modest, more than three hours but nothing like eight. I definitely have no hangover this morning, after two pints and two hours of friendly conversation with Mike. (Though it was Kevin who first proposed a get-together on Sunday evening, I wasn’t surprised when he begged off. We’re friendly business associates but do not engage in much freeform socializing.) The day is taking shape in my mind, two or three hours in the courtyard but home early enough to greet CE on her return, maybe have a fire going.
10-16-12: Yeah yeah, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, yada yada. But I seem to pull a muscle every time I reach. To take the most numerical example, I’m disappointed to have billed only 7 hours over the past two days, so I am compelled to see myself as a failure, even though that might have been a perfectly reasonable amount of time, especially since I have to return Rach’s car this morning, so will be at the Clark hours earlier than usual. There’s always another day (until there isn’t).
As always, my point of entry to the courtyard was the children’s section, and I took satisfaction in facing a mess and turning it into appealing order. I’m gratified to feel entirely on top of things at the Clark, with the courtyard offering bonus hours whenever I choose to take them. Think of it that way and there’s no failure involved. But I will have my failure, it’s the flavor of my life, or one of my favorite flavors anyway. I’m from Cleveland, remember.
Another swing in the weather today, sharply colder with stiff winds but clearing sky. Talk about setting myself up for failure — the woodpile grows in significance, if not size, every day. On Thursday, I’ll be at home till “Old Masters” in the evening, so that should be my day to go the hardware store, fix the cart, and seriously start stacking. Of course, that perhaps should also be the day I write my first draft of WCMA piece — tomorrow I visit again and meet the person who invited my contribution – but I believe I have more than a week till deadline, and I’m sure it will be a piece of cake to write. I’m just eager to check it off the list and move on. No, that’ll wait till the weekend. When I get the chance, filmlog will be first to hand.
10-17-12: Stop with the freakin’ waffle! Don’t say what you’re gonna do, just do what you do, and then say what you want about it. Good advice, if I do say so myself, but here’s the thing – I’ve gotten in the habit of using this journal to sort through my priorities, to keep me on a path, establish a narrative through-line for my life. So much leaning forward, looking to the future, that’s really not my style. I wish to look in two directions, at the present and to the past, leaving the future to be what it will be.
At this point I think I can say with some assurance that the title of this here piece is “Idling.” Might as well just go with it. See, it’s all in the plan, but not my plan. There’s a larger “plan,” and I need to submit to it, finding my freedom at the edges of necessity. Let the needs of others organize my time, but let me find my own time within the flow. One must be passive and yet active, bound and free, pacific yet aggressive. Centered in self but not self-centered. Just the normal contradictions of living.
Though I couldn’t bear to watch last night’s gladiatorial combat, I did sample a wide range of instant reaction, which suggests Obama came off better than Romney and may have arrested his slide since the first debate. This election could have me biting my nails, if I let it. Take the long view – oh, say 150, 170 years – and the choice of this election looms less large.
After yesterday’s dither left me just enough time to finish some satisfactory revisions to my letter to two friendly Clark senior staffers, I took Rachel to the dermatologist, who was running an hour late. By the time I took her home and dropped her prescription at the drugstore, the rapidly flowing patchwork of sun and shadow across the hills drew me up to Mount Hope, so it was after two by the time I got to the Clark, but I definitely took care of some business while there. Again, let me be instructed by my own behavior. I do not need to mount some special campaign, just to make a point, when I do go in, of logging three or four hours instead of one or two. There’ll soon come a period where that will happen just one or two days a week, aside from my public programs.
[Later] Today is sunny and not too cool, so after walking around the visitor center with CE, I spontaneously started stacking wood. Without plan and without self-exhortation, I set off on the long, arduous task. That’s how I’ll do henceforward. Will wrap up “Idling” and WCMA piece, then I’ll be a pinball, banging from bumper to bumper, racking up points here or there, according to no plan, making the most of inertia and the occasional flip back into play.
10-18-12: Okay, I want this idling to end. I want to shift into gear and drive off in some direction, any direction. But the next three days will be given over to auditorium events: Old Master screening tonight; Cinema Salon tomorrow; Williamstown Film Festival Gala on Saturday, with Richard Russo as guest. Still it’s not as if I won’t have plenty of time to write this and that. Plus walk and work outdoors. This week the weather works for me, with tomorrow being the rainy day in a string of sunny ones.
Wrote to my brother on his birthday yesterday and received an unusually ample reply right away. Not everything I write disappears without an echo. I just have to keep covering ground, like the quick red fox that crossed my path a few days ago, running over the driveway and through the horse field to sit on its haunches looking back at me. I’m done tinkering with letter to Bob and Tony, but will not send it till next week, if then.
10-19-12: Old Masters went well, with seventy in attendance to hear Michael Cassin’s lively introduction to Caravaggio, though I don’t think Derek Jarman’s film connected all that well with the audience. Nonetheless the program remains a bit of feather in my cap. Nothing riding on film club today, just watching two of my favorite films on a rainy afternoon, with whomever happens to show up. And I’ve got no personal stake in film festival gala, just happy to use back-up role in bookstore and projection booth as my ticket to see conversation with one of my favorite living novelists.
Meanwhile the surprise guest for the weekend will be Nat. We’ll meet him at a race in Westfield, he’ll come home for almost 24 hours, and we’ll take him back to Cambridge on Sunday. That will be fun, but leave me little time for my WCMA piece. I’ll make no other plan for Monday and Tuesday, and I’m confident of turning out the assignment satisfactorily. I’m counting on that to put an end to idling.
The weather is my philosophical master, always instructing, you win some, you lose some. Last Cinema Salon happened on a afternoon when I didn’t want to be inside, the one nice day in a string of nasty, and today is the nasty one in a string of nice. Neither likely to draw a dozen, however. I didn’t mean to program against WFF (as a founding board member 15 years ago, who nonetheless has never attended a non-Clark event), but simply wasn’t aware of the conflict. I’m not wasting any time working up a spiel on Richard Linklater, no need anyway, since his career is pretty much at my fingertips.
Multiple walks yesterday, in mild sunshine – with Kevin around his neighborhood, later from home up the hill in view of the wind turbines. While making headway on woodpile, I found myself frustrated by task of repairing garden cart, so I shifted my mission to finding a replacement. Had a sick feeling in my stomach for failing yet again at manly competence, but solved the problem by having something to eat, and then researching exactly what to get that might be cheaper (when you figure in my labor) and more functional that refurbishment.
We got thirty-plus years out of that Garden Way cart, so it owes us nothing. Still, I hated that familiar feeling of incompetence at real world tasks. Forget the labor, just calculate the psychological cost, and we’re better off with something new. With plenty of info online, it’s easy to make a purchase with some confidence, though I will stop in the local hardware store to see what they have before ordering from Amazon. The stacking process is underway, nonetheless. The woodpile does not lie idle; it shrinks as chaos becomes order.
10-20-12: Fantastic morning, with fog lifting and sun breaking through, as we followed Route 8 through Hinsdale and Becket to Westfield, an unfamiliar road that was a classic New England autumn treat to drive. Stanley Park, where the race was held, proved a very pleasant place to walk around on an Indian Summer morning. We were back home again a little after noon.
Yesterday I really enjoyed watching Before Sunrise and Before Sunset together with a dozen film club regulars, who liked the films but were not particularly talkative afterwards. A no-sweat event. Likewise, this evening. Another pleasant excursion to Cambridge tomorrow, and then I put an end to idleness, get into gear, and move on down the road.
10-21-12: At an earlier stage of my life, I would have berated myself for hiding out down the basement while the WFF gala was going on. But now I simply accepted that there was no one I would want to meet under those circumstances, even people I would be happy to converse with in a smaller group. That’s who I am — the solitary sort of animal who does not hunt in packs or fly with a flock – so I don’t fight it. Certainly not when the stakes are low.
I wish I’d ordered a few more of Richard Russo’s books, but having been rebuffed in peremptory manner for my enthusiastic offer to see if I could get prepub copies of his new memoir Elsewhere (10/30 street date), I was inclined to take a conservative approach. So a complete sellout constituted success to me, though it certainly indicates I could have sold more. I don’t know how many more, since I wasn’t about to stand around and listen to people complain that more should have been ordered. I enjoyed the panel discussion, however, from the vacant balcony, so the event was certainly worth the trip to the Clark, even without billing time.
I’m pleased to report — and will be even more pleased if I don’t have to say another word about it – that I am into the routine of wood stacking, and can get it done in good time if I keep at it with a little bit of effort every day. Yesterday the sun was so caressing that it was a pleasure to spend time on the woodpile. Afterwards, Nat accompanied CE and me on our usual circuit of Rounds Rock. The trees immediately below were defoliated to gray spindles, but the distant hills showed lingering colors as patterns of light and shadow sailed across them. The panoramic perspective was, as always, exhilarating.
After an enjoyable dinner together, Nat kept to his room for the rest of the evening, and is sleeping in this morning, so I don’t know how this day will go, around where and when he takes his long run (typically 15 miles or more on Sundays). I’m happy to hang loose, however. A little cooler and cloudier today, but still attractive to be outdoors and on the road.
10-22-12: Nothing idle about me this morning. I sat down first thing and banged out my WCMA piece. I’ll continue to tinker with it but basically satisfied myself in less than two hours. Having come up with an opening, I went to the computer to put it down with the idea of coming back to it, but the rest flowed quite naturally and immediately. Ah fluency, what a marvelous thing to experience. It washes away doubt, at least for a moment.
Another wonderful autumn drive yesterday. First we caught the Chinese archaeology exhibit on its last day at the Clark, then drove the Mohawk Trail east. On the way Nat decided he wanted to run from Concord, so after dropping him off, CE and I went to Great Meadows, for a delightful and reminiscent walk around the wetlands. Then we drove to N&N’s apartment, and I went for another enjoyably familiar walk into Harvard Square and back along the river. I got back not long after Nat, and then we three went out to eat at a good, cheap Indian place nearby on Mass Ave. Listening to Jesse Winchester and Leonard Cohen, we had a pleasant drive on the Pike and got home well before midnight.
10-23-12: Again with the turnaround time. Granted, I had nearly a month to think about WCMA piece, to hone what I wanted to say, but the way I turned it out, spontaneously, without grunting, in an hour or two, certainly indicated that my motor was warmed up by weeks of idling, and ready to shift into gear. The WCMA PR person deemed my contribution “wonderful” and had only one small suggestion, and upon rereading I had just one tiny redundancy to correct. Done, and done. Where to next? Vroom, vroom.