Present tense

10-24-12:  About all this self-absorption, I ask, is it monstrous or is it heroic?  And the answer is, “It’s ordinary, everyday, common as dirt.”  Who cares about little old me, and my piddling daily verbiage?  No one; someone; anyone?  Don’t matter none, I jest keep doin’ what I duz.  If it pleases me to put my message in a bottle and cast it into the sea, who will gainsay me that pleasure?  You, who have found it on some distant beach, will determine whether it was worth the effort to communicate across the expanse of oceans and eras, or just between me and you.


About my efforts at writing, my own evaluation is just high enough (with the usual pharmaceutical assist) to keep writing, but not high enough to assume that anyone would want to read it, aside from the people closest to me, and often not them.  I wouldn’t mind if someone undertook to pay me to write about something other than myself.  For a price, I would welcome the world into my reflections.  For now, however, the two of us, you and me, are stuck with me as subject.


One contract I can make with the reader, and myself, is not to write about what I’m going to do.  Grand pronouncements about the future, sure!  Everybody knows those are hot air balloons, always subject to puncture by events.  But no bullshit about what I’m going to do today or tomorrow or next week.  I’ll keep those inherently fallacious remarks to myself.  I’ll talk about what is, or was, but never what will be, that terrain of terrible ignorance.  Good, so we’re agreed.


By noon yesterday I’d finalized two posts for this blog, as well as WCMA post, while doing a load of laundry.  Then I went outside to stack wood.  I had no intention of going to the Clark, but only to Caretaker Farm for my two-hour member stint.   I’m so caught up at the Clark, it’s pretty much the courtyard or nothing to do.  The farm was not very busy in the last gasp of the harvest season, but still a pleasant place to spend some time, and I got home early enough to go for a walk in the woods, before dark and rain descended. 


There’s not much that I worry about, except the election, from which I keep my distance.  Apparently Obama won the final debate on points a night ago, but Romney remains slightly ahead in national polls, while Obama leads in enough state polls to win the electoral college.  Everything points to Ohio being decisive.


It’s rather surprising to find myself falling asleep before midnight most nights, but I embrace the early shift in my habits, which makes the most of the daylight, whose hour’s worth of saving we will soon lose, making it dark by five o’clock.  Pretty dark already this morning, but the day seems bright with possibility to me.  Who knows what I’ll wind up doing before I catch a ride with Jane after school?


10-26-12:  Truth to tell, I would be tickled to be “discovered,” if not celebrated.  I wouldn’t — couldn’t — do what Kevin does, such a tireless promoter of his books.  But it would be nice to be found out by a few intrepid readers.  That’s why in my head I make more of that little WCMA piece than it warrants.  It pleases me that it’s out there, and may reach a few, very few, new readers.  So I am not as indifferent to readership as I sometimes pretend, but for psychological reasons, I must maintain no expectations.  Though I get little encouragement from outside, that doesn’t and won’t stop me.  Like poetry in Auden’s formulation, all this “makes nothing happen.”


Nothing happening here, for sure.  Missed a day while taking Rach to dentist in Pittsfield and then processing several shipments of new titles at the Clark.  Got in a walk and some woodstacking before dark.  In evening, re-watched There Will Be Blood in anticipation of seeing The Master at Images tonight, maybe leading discussion after Monday screening.  I got a very high ratio of replies to emails I sent two days ago, so I plan a second wave today.  Not yet clear what else I will get up to, besides visiting Rach in the middle of the afternoon.


Bob G. finally suggested a date for meeting with Tony K., so I just wrote him a note attached to the letter I’ve been pushing ahead in this file for weeks.  In my own mind the issues have narrowed, and all I want to address is a new deal for public programs.  Forget Clark publications altogether, and let the shop follow whatever course it will.  I noticed on the daily calendar that there was a “retail meeting” earlier this week.  It’s no surprise that 33 years of retail experience, half of that at the Clark, doesn’t get me a seat at the table.  The only appropriate response is not to want a seat at the table.  Mission accomplished.


10-27-12:  Good to be clearcut, so I was happy to be certain that I did not want to see The Master again, and did not want to talk about it either, so my Monday is thereby freed up.  Nonetheless film writing will be top priority between now and next week’s repeat screenings of four-hour Edvard Munch.  I’ve also got dates and films for next Cinema Salon screenings.  So there are two email distributions to send out, as well as blogposting.  No sweat there either, which seems to be my attitude of the moment.


I’ll also resume distribution of my resume.  At Wild Oats yesterday, I happened to bump into one of the people to whom I intended to send it, and we had a pleasant chat, which provides the occasion for a follow-up email with attachment.  I re-drew my map of tasks yesterday, and replaced scribbled-over shirtpocket notesheet with a blank page.  Also pushed myself to more than a typical day’s worth of woodstacking, should do more before “Frankenstorm” arrives on Monday.  Yeah, I know, weather and election forecasting have been ruled out here, with a taboo on the future, but one can’t avoid all forward glances.


Though yesterday morning was as gray as this, the afternoon cleared beautifully, and I was glad to take Rach out for a stroll around Mt. Hope.  Then I got a couple hours of desk work done at the Clark, theirs and mine, before meeting CE at Images, and getting a ride home after the film.


My mind is uncluttered at the moment, open to impulse, neither overburdened nor empty.  I’ll just keep active and see where the days lead me.  Living in the present does not preclude all motivation, but it does make me uncertain of just what the next minute will bring, of where I will go or what I will do.  I’m no leader, and not a follower either; I embrace the challenge of inventing each day as it comes to me.


10-28-12:  Do we need more command and control here?  I don’t know, maybe a little.  But I remain essentially anarchistic.  (Anachronistic too.)  The only command and control I want is of the English language.  I do wish to focus on some long-term writing project, so I have a default file to open everyday, a seam of ore to work, moving my sixteen tons a day.


Will settle for six hundred pounds today, of firewood that is, though it would be nice to do more.  Yesterday I overloaded the cart on first go, and my back complained.  I went for a walk to work it out, and only got back for one more load.  Rode up Kessler Rd. with CE; she walked a little and drove home; I walked a lot around the stations of my spot, and then walked home. 


Though it’s late in the fall, and I see nary a leaf as I look out my window at the trees in the back yard, there was an abundance of color around my spot, all copper and bronze, burnishing an otherwise gray day.  I tramped around my RIP-spot, with its burst milkweed pods and other grasses and wildflowers in their final stages, and up a ridge beyond.  When I returned to the meadow alongside the stream, the grass that grew back after haying appeared intensely green.  The brook itself was back to normal flow.  The whole thing seemed transcendental enough for me.


[Later]  Ah, my “map,” how handy.  Taking a breath, I glanced at my fresh page with four quadrants of things to do, and saw one thing I could and should do immediately – cleaning leaves and pine needles out of the gutters.  As a senior citizen, I’m not that great on the extension ladder, but it was a chore that needed doing, especially if Hurricane Sandy brings as much rain as it’s supposed to.  For the same reason, I dragged a tarp over the woodpile and weighed it down, while also doing some stacking and loading.  In a groove of sorts, I came in and vacuumed the house and cleaned the bathroom.  Now it’s just past noon, and I have the rest of the day at my disposal.  I’ve an idea of how I’m going to spend it, but will keep that to myself.  Tomorrow too, but then it gets murky, we’ll just have to see how the weather goes.  So far we figure to be at the edge of the storm, with high wind and lots of rain, but not taking the brunt of it.


I’ve finished both of Philip Lopate’s forthcoming books, and writing him is definitely on my list, though less than urgent.  Going through a spate of magazines now, but I’ll soon take off on a new reading project.  I plan a library run this week, but will likely start in on the big book I’ve had out for a while, William Lee Miller’s Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress.  But I’m also eager to get a look at Allan Nevins’ history of the New York Evening Post.


One thing that has dropped off my list, possibly for good, is the idea of a long, testing hike.  One that may return to the list is setting an appointment for physical therapy.  Perhaps I should just take geriatric aches and pains as the new normal.  My walks remain frequent but not as long as they have been.  I guess that’s my cue to head back outdoors, the atmosphere a bit dull but otherwise pleasant.


10-29-12:  Plans understandably vague, given the fearsome forecast that has schools closed today and tomorrow (not to mention mass evacuations in NYC).  It’s not really raining yet, though the trees are starting to sway in the wind.  Today is Monday and potentially a good day to spend in the Clark courtyard, but I’ll head home early if the weather gets wild.  Extra glad not to have film discussion at Images on my plate.  Checked two lingering items off my list in a couple of hours at the Clark yesterday.  Will go in shortly after noon today, with no idea how long I’ll stay. 


The present is a bit tense, but I have no great anxiety about the future.  Rach and I are having great fun reading Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith’s hilarious memoir of anxiety.  I can laugh all the more, since no longer afflicted to the extent I once was.  A lot has to do simply with avoiding the occasions of anxiety, arranging my life in order not to be put into anxiety-making situations.  Maybe I get less volatile with age, more accepting of who I am, what I can and cannot do.  My drug of choice, I’m sure, has something to do with my mellowing.  In Monkey Mind, anyway, humor trumps pain.


Strangely still outside – is this the proverbial calm before the storm?  While CE is out and the power is still on, I’ll shift to her computer and work on filmlog.  A minute or two later, and everything is in motion outside my windows.


10-31-12:  Unlike NYC and environs, we suffered from Hurricane Sandy only the mild inconvenience of being without power for a day.  Looks bad in Manhattan, however, with tunnels and subways flooded and the lower half of the island dark.  Even worse in New Jersey.  At least the surge has receded, so it’s not like Katrina or the tsunami, but will take some cleaning up.  There’s nothing to do but re-double my thanks for all that destiny has spared me, as well as what it has delivered.


Having read latest issues of NYer, NYRB, and Atlantic, and re-read parts of Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore (but not finding the epigraph for American Candide that I thought I might), I went to the college library and picked up Allan Nevins’s The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism (1922).  Now I’m devouring that before the volume falls apart in my hands.  What a difference it makes to be reading an accomplished historian and writer, who understands the present of the past and makes it live again in words!


If the first day of this month felt like opening a chapter, the last feels a bit like closing one, and yet we remain in “Present tense,” though the present is not particularly tense, despite tricky film programs the next two days and the election less than a week away.  I have reasonable confidence that both will turn out okay, and if not, there’s nothing I can do about it, and therefore nothing to worry about in advance.  “What will be, will be” is platitude, perhaps tautology, but also truth.


11-1-12:  I’m vaguely apprehensive over eight hours of film screenings today and tomorrow, will be glad to get past it into that mythical time, free of anxious foreboding and open to the infinite world of words, where I wish to dwell eternally.  Next week I have meeting with Bob and Tony on Monday, doctor on Tuesday, dentist on Thursday, so that’s more occasion for vague apprehension.  Meanwhile, a couple with whom CE and I are friends will be staying in a timeshare nearby for a week, so we’re likely to be more social than usual.  Thus my transformation into full-time, fully-focused writer will be on hold for another week.  I’ll still find the time here and there to churn out wordcount, if not “writing” as such.


Next year’s JFK Award winner has been announced, so now “Kevin O’Hara” will be engraved on the marble monument right between “David McCullough” and “Doris Kearns Goodwin.”  Who’d a thunk it, that the donkey man would ever wind up in such company?  (Or on that Christian Science Monitor list of top ten books about Ireland, headed by James Joyce with KO nestled between William Trevor and Edna O’Brien, or the book’s #1 ranking on Amazon if you search “Ireland travel” and sort by reader ratings?)  I’ve got to credit Kevin’s people-pleasing story, and his unremitting effort to put it out there, for offering me a huge boost in self-confidence as a writer.


I made shopping trip to Price Chopper last night, have laundry in right now, and will soon resume woodstacking after the storm, so I’m pretty well caught up with chores all round.  I’m definitely ready for a call to work, either for money or spirit.  Since I’m keeping to the present tense, I don’t speculate on where the call may come from.


Worth noting is my enthusiasm for the subject of Bryant and the Evening Post, despite the dry brown bits of paper, and whole back cover, that fall in my lap as I read the Nevins volume, and despite a misbound signature that apparently no one else has noticed in 90 years.  Makes me feel like a scholar digging deep.  Also that I will never get to the bottom of my chosen subject, never run out of interest in my particular historical period.


I sent out Clark-wide notice on “Old Masters” yesterday, and will send out Cinema Salon mailing soon, now that I have my next two programs scheduled.  So I’ve been ticking off items on my “map” (all except the one underlined right at the top – completing my application for Social Security), and I took note in The Atlantic of a James Fallows interview with some apostle of Getting Things Done, where he concludes about avoiding the “busy trap”:  “Things on your mind need to be externalized – captured in some system that you trust.  You capture things that are potentially meaningful; you clarify what those things mean to you; and you need maps of all that, so you can see it from a larger perspective.”


[Later]  It was so long ago that I started my SS application that I couldn’t remember what had stopped me, but I went ahead and was done within ten minutes.  So much for one more thing hanging over my head, one more bogeyman haunting my days.  Here’s to getting things done.


11-2-12:  I’m pleased to say it was no chore to sit through Peter Watkins’ 220-minute version of Edvard Munch, quite thrilling really, but now I’m on the run to show it again, between going for a bloodtest and returning Rach’s car.  The pallet of Daedalus books delayed by the superstorm arrived yesterday, and I processed half of it last evening before the film, and will do the rest during the film today, then stay up in Williamstown.


11-3-12:  This is what I wrote about the theatrical version of Edvard Munch  in my journal when I first saw it 36 years ago, in effect the first entry in my filmlog, avant la lettre:  “I found the content of the film informative and the style very interesting.  I know little enough about Munch et al. not to be troubled by any misrepresentations, though my feeling that the film is a very personal interpretation of Munch’s life was confirmed in the program notes, which showed that he lived for another 35 years after the film ends, and related that Watkins was drawn to his story by a strong feeling of identification.  The film’s development is more musical than narrative, themes weaving in and out, notes being repeated.  The editing is associational, images of memory mixing freely, sorting and resorting themselves, dialogue and voice-over alternating in complex variations, round and round.”


Yep, that’s just about right. Too bad I couldn’t attract more people to see it.  Barely thirty between the two screenings, and maybe only a dozen all the way through.  But – say it with me – it was a no-sweat affair.  And during the second screening I got four hours of bookstore work done.  So – all good.  Nothing problematic about film screenings for the rest of the month – Lust for Life in “Old Masters” series and two Paul Newman double features for Cinema Salon.  Then in December, I have two somewhat anxious events on successive days, an author appearance at the Clark and then my Faculty Club lecture.  Other than that, things seem wide open, no problems on any front, as far as I can see, which of course is no further than the end of my protuberant nose.


So back to the present tense.  I still have four hours until Belle and John come over for a walk before dinner.  What’s up with that?  I don’t know, that’s the future; I’ll have to get back to you once it’s past.


11-4-12:  I gained two hours this morning, since I woke up thinking it was an hour later, but actually it was an hour earlier.  Of course it doesn’t matter what time it is, because whatever it is, it’s the present, and that’s where we want to be.  Presence and attention are habits I strive for, good schoolboy habits, being present and paying attention to what the teacher is showing me.  As I did not do all that much past the sixth grade, but which I am much more inclined to do as I get older.  So who are the teachers I listen to?  Experience, history, nature, art, love – those I go to school on, they provide my curriculum.


So where do my studies run today?  What subjects are current?  What electrifies my mind on this clear but chilly morning?  There wasn’t a hard frost last night, just one so far this autumn, but it will be down into the 20s the next few nights, which will become commonplace in the “foreseeable future,” that immemorial oxymoron.  So woodstacking is the first order of the day, at least to the extent my back will allow.  A good hike also in order – enjoyed Bradley Farm loop with John and Belle and CE yesterday.


Till they came over, I kept busy with this and that, maintained my sense of being current, but not surging forward.  Enjoyed companionable conversation over dinner and around the fire afterwards, but not too late.  We’ll see them again on election night, to eat pizza and watch the returns.


11-5-12:  Both woodstacking and walk turned out much longer than I expected, given my geriatric aches upon embarking.  And I was delighted to promptly turn out Cinema Salon copy that works both as email and blogpost.  Especially with the early dark, I decided not to go north at all, will have the time today to do plenty at the Clark and drop in on Rachel twice.  Enjoyed an extended evening of viewing and reading.


About today’s meeting with Tony and Bob, I have an expectation of resolution and yet a lack thereof.  It may be a watershed moment, but it’s almost a matter of indifference which direction the water flows — I’ll wend my way to the ocean along either path.  The ultimate destination is always the same, whatever route we take.


I have the urge to ruminate, but not the substance.  I keep active, but can’t seem to settle.  I’m still “leaning forward,” as MSNBC and the Obama campaign would have me do.  Tomorrow, let’s hope, will settle the election, and I trust my doctor’s visit will prove routine.  In preparation, I’ve taken my blood pressure a couple of times, and the readings have been well within the target range.  Dentist two days later looms a bit more ominously, but that’s hardly a life-altering event.  So in theory this unsettled feeling, this tense present, should last only for a few more days.


11-6-12:  Another argument for living without expectation:  no meeting yesterday, because Tony got hung up with The Director.  No problem — I got my work done and paid my visits to Rach.  Here’s hoping for an election decided today, and not some period hence, with acrimony rising over indecision.  There’s no acrimony on my part — since by now I feel that I am playing out my string at the Clark, the worst I could get is confirmation of that impression, and anything better is augmentation.  I’m certainly not going to get into any shouting match with Bob and Tony.  At worst, a shrug of the shoulders.


Because of the decrepitude of that Evening Post volume, I read it only at the kitchen table, and elsewhere I’m getting well into Arguing about Slavery.  Deep into the antebellum era, I have mostly skirted the present “irrepressible conflict.”  Obama’s chances have improved over the past week, but there is still plenty of doubt about the result.


11-7-12:  The present is now a little less tense.  Thankfully we don’t have to await the final result from Florida, though 332 electoral votes would sound more impressive than 303.  Obama’s popular vote margin may reach three million.  This prolonged godforsaken money-soaked election is finally over.  Now the real worries begin.  Will the Republicants see the light, or redouble their obstructionist tactics?  Will all those wannabe John Wilkes Booths be held at bay?


My own worries are minimal.  No problem at doctor for annual exam.  Later I got a request for promotional copy for my Faculty Club lecture, which called up some anticipatory anxiety, but I put it to rest by sitting right down and banging out a paragraph.  When I talked with Rach on the phone, she was upset because Alex’s grandfather had died suddenly, but at least the election results did not upset her further.


We’re supposed to get measurable snow tonight, but I did a lot of woodstacking yesterday and the pile remains covered, with another string of clear days coming up after tomorrow.  Yesterday was clear as could be, and I went for an exhilarating walk uphill after moving a ton of wood.


In the evening we picked up pizza from Baba Louie’s and went over to Vacation Village to watch election returns with Belle and John, which was enjoyable.  It was all decided by the time we left at midnight, but at home I stayed up late, following reactions and watching Romney’s rather gracious concession (never liked him as much as in humble defeat), and Obama’s stirring victory speech.  It wasn’t 2008, but maybe something better.


Netflix has screwed up my Cinema Salon plans by skipping over #1 in my queue four times, so The Hustler is likely to arrive a day late for planned Friday screening.  Luckily there are just a few people who were told the proposed date, so I will make up my mind when to postpone the screening to, and then finally send out email with revised date.


11-8-12:  All for the best.  I just sent out email, with screening set for Sunday, which will allow me to take Rach to doctor on Friday, but also to meet with Bob and Tony.  I’m still tense about dentist appointment today.  Instead of my usual “no problems” when asked upon reclining in the chair, I will have to describe various symptoms and dread what they will find upon closer inspection.


No snow after all.  After much uncertainty, plans for next few days sorted out nicely.  Stay calm, stay in the present, keep on keeping on.  Still, I have to wonder – what’s the next big thing?  Dismal to read in New Yorker about Sandy aftermath –how one’s life can be turned upside down from one day to the next.  There, but for the grace of pure dumb luck, go I.


America may have averted the worst, but still faces severe challenges.  I persist in deficit myself.  But there remains reason to hope.  Apocalypse not just yet.  Since we can never know how bad things might get, let’s just assume that everything will turn out okay.


These days I seem to have more time to write than I have things to say, but that will change soon one way or the other.  When I move from present to future, I’m confident of getting back into Brown Book transcription and other projects, not to mention a serious transformation of my workroom.  Perhaps foolishly, I imagine tomorrow as the end of the present, whether tense or not, and the beginning of the future, however imperfect.

11-9-12:  Well, that weren’t like pullin’ teeth.  I was happy to have hygienist and dentist say, “No problem.  Don’t worry about it.”  That’s one area of hypochondria I can put to rest.  One worry I can put out of my head.  Really, I don’t have many, but any can get blown out of proportion, and take over too much of one’s consciousness.  Me and Alfred E. Neuman, we keep our gap-toothed grins by saying, “What, me worry?”


I don’t anticipate any teeth getting pulled, metaphorically, in talking with Bob and Tony today.  I don’t expect my situation at the Clark to get better necessarily, but do expect to understand better what my situation is.  And I hope to clarify my own actions going forward.


CE and I are going to breakfast at Café Reva with Belle and John as they head out of town, and then I will be driving from Pittsfield to Williamstown and back again with Rach for a doctor visit.  Plenty of blue sky today, after glimpses at best over past few days, not bad for shuttling up and down Route 7.


11-10-12:  Though Tony was as cordial and supportive as I anticipated, the meeting brought a bit of bad news, once again thwarting my attempt to maneuver around my great nemesis, T-Lo the ADD.  In my last conversation with Bob, he indicated that T-Lo was responsible only for the museum shop aspect of my work, so I thought I might be able to negotiate my programming role separately with the Deputy Director and Director of Finance. 


But now I discover that in the never-ending quest to find something for T-Lo to do in the top-heavy organization chart of the Clark, he is now taking on oversight of public programs.  There seems to be no way around this guy, and yet the upshot of the meeting was that Tony and Bob would put their heads together and come up with a way to advance my cause without inflaming the issue.  Still, that’s disheartening.  But at least I know whither the future wends, away from rather than towards the Clark, yet without any likelihood of breaking off altogether. 


That’s not a bad place to be — it’s basically where I’ve been all along — but with no anxiety attached.  I feel better after the votes of confidence, Barack’s and my own.  My present is less tense.  Now I need to work toward my future.

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