Author Archives: admin

THE BARN PARTITAS

Much that could not be written: the look back,
often in company—small wonder, then,
her wariness. He scanned the long horizon:
roads sinuous and tree-lined, shrines, chapels,
terraces, rooms with views, cars and ferries—
all the possible venues that figure
when someone else is the journey’s purpose.
Can one explain the road as lived? Reason
has no answer. When questioned about it,
the I Ching gave him “Splitting Apart,” apt
and to him optimistic: things must break
so something new can gather force, appear.
“Things must”: how fate permeates the road!
And each one sees it as it is for her.

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IN MEMORY

He tore himself open
like a star falling through heavens.

1.
Neither death nor madness could contain you.
We reason and we feel, and neither thing
was enough for you.
Yet once, secure in your long dress,
you laughed and tossed a shuttlecock
over the net.
The clairvoyant said your journey
now is separate.
Your path and his divided years ago,
although the same roof enclosed you.

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PREAMBLE

Black and white photo of a girl and a woman sitting outside in bright sun, the woman in a dark dress and broad hat

ANGELICA BELL AND HER AUNT, VIRGINIA WOOLF

This essay revives and completes another, “Love & Marriage,” that I started in 2001. It consists of eight theses and five codas. I use the word thesis because the essay draws on my lived experience of the human condition and its conundrums. Theses are not laws or rules; life is not a set of algorithms…

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THESES

THESIS 1: MARRIAGE CONTINUES FAMILY

A colorful painting of several figures outdoors with a tentlike shelter

A SUMMER CAMPING SCENE, PAINTED BY VANESSA BELL

My first thesis is that marriage, as the continuation of childhood, is as wrapped up in family as it is in the desire for love that gives rise to it.

We are born into a family and it forms the context of our lives through our upbringing. We make friends and eventually we split off from our family in order to form another…

CODAS

DUNCAN GRANT WITH ANGELICA AND QUENTIN BELL

Work is life’s other great thread—with school, the great inculcator of discipline. It’s also the enabler of family, providing the wherewithal to achieve a measure of independence, to marry, and to support a household. A topic in itself, work deserves mention if only to note the social costs of economic stagnation and exploitation. One achievement of the postwar era was to quell for a time in selected countries the terrors of unemployment and put family life on sounder footing…

AFTERWORD & SOURCES

AFTERWORD

A black and white photo of a man and woman sitting on stone steps in the sunshine

DUNCAN GRANT AND VANESSA BELL

The earlier version of this essay was more of a manifesto. I came to doubt that this was the right way to approach it. I tried writing another essay, “Buddha’s Ladder,” but set it aside as derivative of Stephen Batchelor’s Alone with Others. He addresses what I’ve called the quantum nature of human life. As individuals who are also social creatures, saddled with biology and traditions, we …

PREAMBLE: MEMOIR + POLEMIC

An office looking out on a garden

THE THRESHING FLOOR AT THE POLEMICAL MILL

I got a big laugh and a lot of nodding heads when I said to some writing colleagues that I realized I often write in a polemical vein. To do so, I think, requires a certain measure of self-regard: you have to believe both that the topic that exercises you is worth discussing publicly and that your opinion will be of interest to others. This also motivates memoir-writing, it seems to me. A diary is …

FOUR KINDS OF FIRE

1.

LIKE PROMETHEUS, EVE STOLE FIRE AND SUFFERED FOR IT

The diarist Samuel Pepys describes London’s Great Fire, during which King James II, besmirched with soot, made sure he was seen helping to put it out. Large swathes of San Francisco burned down following the 1906 earthquake, although a few landmarks survived. In 1968, the tenements of Newark were set aflame by rioters and then left by the city as burnt-out shells, much as the corpses of the condemned were displayed at the gates of medieval towns…

URBANITY, NOT JUST DENSITY

THE TOWER BREAKING THROUGH THE 200-FOOT “ZONING WALL” ALONG WASHINGTON ST. (STAN HAYES/GOOGLE)

On April 15, 2010, the San Francisco Planning Commission will revisit the proposed 38-story 555 Washington Street Tower, designed by Heller Manus for AEGON, Lowe Enterprises, and Liberty Hill. At its 18 March meeting, the commission certified the project’s EIR. (Because of a public notice problem, the rest of the agenda was held over, but my sense is that the tower already had the votes going in.)

At an earlier hearing, …

NY GETS FRESH NOUVEL WHILE SF GETS PELLI’S LEFTOVERS. HOW COME?

JEAN NOUVEL’S MOMA TOWER

I winced when I saw the Times’ headline, “Next to MoMA, Reaching for the Stars.” Jean Nouvel’s new 75-story tower alongside the Museum of Modern Art reached back to Lyonel Feininger for inspiration, finally realizing his vision of an expressionist tower. It’s hard to imagine a stronger contrast to Cesar Pelli’s safely office-like MoMA housing or Yoshio Taniguchi’s recent, buttoned-down expansion. “To its credit, the Modern pressed for a talented architect,” Times’ critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote, but he goes on to praise …