MISCELLANY

Looking again for a poem written long ago, apparently lost, I found typed-out extracts from a 20-year old diary. It’s always a question what to take from them, but I agree with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s observation that a diary’s immediacy gives it a faithfulness to unfolding events that’s missing in post-facto accounts. We live among others who may observe, comment, write down what they saw and thought, even about us, and perhaps recount some of it. Diarists do this, and I’m one of them. I’ve tried to protect the innocent.

Rudolf Steiner: “Fully mature human beings give themselves their own worth. It not pleasure they seek, handed to them by nature or by their creator as a gift of grace; nor is it some abstract duty they fulfill, recognized by them after they have stripped away all striving for pleasure. They act as they want, that is, in accordance with their moral intuitions; and they experience the attainment of what they want as their true enjoyment in life. They determine the value of life by the relation of what they have attained to what they have striven to achieve.” (Early 1991)

I think the thing I want most of all is to be energetic and enthusiastic about what I’m doing. What do I really want? Success without effort, an income without work, freedom to do “nothing,” I say in all honesty, recognizing their total impossibility. But maybe this is also a period of “becoming,” a transition from one way of being and thinking to another. And this new way is not yet formed, thought through, or understood. In my dream existence, I write 3.5 hours a day like Virginia Woolf, and learn and master new arts. In my real existence, I squander time. I seem to “unlearn” and have no real calling or motivation. (6, 7 and 13 September 1993)

Margaret Duras: “Between men and women, imagination is at its strongest.” (February 1993)

My neighbor described a planned exhibit on William Wurster. What one wants to know about him, I thought, is his context and history—like Joe Esherick’s sister who died of pneumonia because she’d never turn the heat on: the details and ephemera that rise and fall around architects and their buildings. Since I saw Venice a second time, I only think of buildings in a contxtual sense, and the lives of architects interest me purely as lives. So I imagine that an exhibit on Wurster could up the ante on the importance he gave to the Bay Region—what it meant to him. I remember visiting the art museum in Gothenburg in late 1977 and being struck by that city’s cultural self-sufficiency in the late 19th century—a self-centeredness that allowed it briefly to flower. (This is the same epoch that Ingmar Bergman depicts in the Stockholm of Fanny and Alexander.) We had it here, as well, even when I first arrived, but then we lost it.

So, for all these reasons, I want to know what Gardner Dailey thought about as he plunged toward the bay, and to see on the wall a series of photographs that show how Esherick’s three daughters resemble him and each other, despite their several mothers. Like the adherents of a cargo cult, I imagine that these rituals of remembering may reverse entropy, revive the corpse, and bring a newly rebirthed Venus floating to our shores. As I write this, I see what I meant when I noted earlier in my diary that I’d like to write an essay on the impossibility or extreme difficulty of regionalism. Perhaps a region’s moments in the sun are a just flukes, momentary delusions, or acts of discovery or rediscovery—by outsiders, inevitably—that bring the region suddenly into focus, only to decline back to lethargy or indifference. Of my generation, Stanley Saitowitz alone fulfills this role of outsider, addressing the region from the standpoint of discovery, in the same way that Esherick and Chuck Bassett did before him. (25 July 1993)

I dreamt last night that I was talking with an architectural historian I know, waking up just as I was saying to her that the 1940s and 1950s looked forward to the future, but this optimism was destroyed in the 1960s. From then on we’ve looked backward. This last decade especially—the 1980s—was a “bracket” to the century. On waking, it seemed like a truism, but in my dream I said it with great feeling—great enough at any rate to wake myself up. (8 August 1993)

In a conversation over coffee, I was told that I was selfish and that my diary was replete with references to money—evidently my central preoccupation. She asked repeatedly if I was offended by these criticisms, and interjected that I was also generous, but that what wrecked things was the need to schedule every encounter. “I could never just see you!” Of course, I could only agree with this. Then I mentioned the text of a postcard I sent her while she was away, in care of her old aunt: “Maybe we would have gotten along better if I’d been a woman.” She half-screamed and said, “You wrote that? I hope no one can read your writing!” (8 August 1993)

I thought last night of a novel, set Woolf style in a single day, called “The Marriage.” It follows the protagonist through his day as lived and through a series of flashbacks that illuminate his current situation and his own part in it—a satirical novel in which I’m the object of satire, in fact. The novel would chronicle my many contributions to my current semi-unhappy state of ambivalence and to some extent of sorrow. (16 August 1993)

I’m the sort of man who cries at The Nutcracker, moved at the sight of the young women, and who falls in love in the midst of a conversation, undone by a helpless empathy. I read about angels and would like to believe in them, perhaps do believe in them, since at heart my beliefs are almost animistic. // “Tales of the Middle Classes”: a possible title for a book. // An idea: to write micro-essays, one a day or at any rate one at a time, in succession. // Going back through old diaries, I realize that the entries are like letters to myself, to be read later in order to “see what I mean” with the benefit of distance. (21 December 1993)

Designing a life, dealing with the limitations of time and space—time “now” and time “out there,” with its finiteness and its impact on me and on those I love: Duncan Grant’s “cultivation of independence.” Needed but difficult to attain: a disciplined life that makes time for writing, relationships, children, place making, travel. I torture myself perpetually about not writing. I found a note that my oldest son left on my desk, expressing the hope that I would finally write the brilliant thing he believed me capable of writing. (March 1994)

In Venice: The woman stares out of the painting at the viewer. She holds her baby to her breast, and though a piece of cloth lends modesty to her upper torso, her belly is exposed, with a roll of fat that speaks to a recent birth. The Virgin sits at her desk and reads. The angel’s red sandals are wrapped around his feet, his robe elaborately folded, almost defying gravity. (2 May 1994)

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