Saturday, October 03, 2015

Inner Gold

Now I’m on page 313 in McGregor.  Maybe it is my imagination but the second part of the book feels so much better than the first half.  McG feels relaxed and confident. He knows the older Lax, that is who he met, and he has little to work on other than mining Lax’s journals, poems, writings of all sorts and he enjoys doing this and does it well.  Lax’s idea of his inner voice, each of us trying to listen to our inner voice, feels like pure gold, the sort of passage we’ve been looking and longing for in this life of Lax.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cursing the Biographer

Reading more on Lax.  If only McGregor had had someone make him take out the two first paragraphs about the painter Ad Reinhardt on page 219.  They sound like potted opinions couched to apologize to the reader for talking so much about this old-fogey painter friend of Lax’s, now forgotten, unlike our dear hero, Lax himself, a painter of quaint abstract works “emblematic of a bygone era.”  He cites Barbara Rose.  Can you imagine?  Oh the damnation that phrase places anyone under, the lowest depths of the inferno.  “McGregor, by all that is plaid and shamrocky, I hereby curse thee thyself as a biographer, writer, and friend of culture, to become yourself, the sooner and the better, “emblematic of a bygone era.” 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Egotism of the Long Distance Reader

I seem to get only so far in biographies (of writers?) and then lose interest.  Or my own egocentricism kicks in. 
The writer of this book on Lax is twenty years younger than us, so I start to see his "lens" on things.  I was very glad to hear him say that Merton was a brilliant self-promoter all through his career as a writer.  Of course Lax's story is much in the shadow of Merton's story and always has been, so McGregor is trying to give Lax the spotlight as much as possible.  

Now that I am up to Lax at around the age of 30 my interest in his story slows down and my egocentrism kicks in and I want to keep reading but more slowly so as to see the portrait of my own coming of age in the periods the biographer describes.  Lax is exactly the age of my parents, all born in 1914-15.  Leonard Cohen the singer is born in 1934, ten years my senior.  I’m now going to kick in my love of “stereophonic” reading and continue with Lax’s biography alongside the biography of Leonard Cohen which I began reading a few years back and then put aside.  Pick up with both around 1950 when I was starting school at St Mary’s in Cumberland, Maryland.  The bookmark in the Cohen book corrects me and says I dropped it in 1967, so I guess I’ll read more of Lax to catch up to that date. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Robert Lax and Theosophy

Michael N McGregor’s long-awaited biography of Robert Lax yields its secrets.  Young Lax read Theosophical society books brought home by his famous uncle Henry and aunt Marie who had been to India in 1912 to meet Annie Besant. 

McGregor says “Lax seems to have read some of the movement’s literature as well, including an early book by the movement’s protégé, J. Krishnamurti, where he saw a poem in the vertical style he would one day make his own.  57

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reading some of Pappos's short pieces on his blog site made me realize how addicted he is to the either/or.  Does he ever experience a maybe both/and?  Or isn't the whole game of wall street and corporate management based wholly on the "or"--you win or you lose.  Markets are up or down.  Products sell or they don't.  His piece on the bankrupt pride of the Greek soul is perfect for this.  Wonder if he's ever heard of the DeMoulas saga, Greek tragedy, around Boston, especially last summer's climactic battle?

Reading experiences frame one another, as with all of living.  Coming to Pappos right on the heels of finishing Calasso on Baudelaire shapes my sense of what Pappos may or may not have pulled-off.  Calasso is so slow and nuanced, magisterial, breathtaking.  Pappos is nuanced enough but in that high-speed rush way that is not breathtaking even though it may at times take your breath away.

I envy it of course but by the end I wanted most of all to now write a novel that would be as opposite Hotel Living as possible.  Nugget of great disappointment from my expectations as set up by the title.  I wanted a novel that was really about hotel living, a sort of Pico Iyer thing but much better than he's been doing of late.  I don't think this title is really that good for this novel.  Have to laugh at library and publishing cataloging---in that string of tags they list 2. Single-occupancy hotels.  That sure will mislead some researchers someday.  When he gets a movie out of this book, and it could of course happen, it will have a much better title.  Hotel Jerk or whatever.  Hotel Innovation.

One of his best effects is to use the fog of corporate and management jargon with his command of trendy idiom to obscure and advance what people are saying and doing all at the same time.  Maybe even something Nabokovian to give him high marks in that class of immigrant writers who master the language and add something to it, to the literature.
If Hotel Living is literature.  Might be a fine trendy read.  White and Cunningham.  Of course.  But no one will say as was blurbed on Calasso's book "one had thought they didn't write books like this anymore." 

Hotel Living by Ioannis Pappos

  Secret to how addictive is to read Pappos: "Or."  Hotel L endless rush of Or/Either play-offs

July 8 Weds

Started reading Hotel Living, new novel by Iannos Pappos, which caught my eye because of the title, so close to mine.  Wanted to see what he does with it.  Of course the publicity for it talked about the anomie of hotel life as one moves around the high flying hedge fund wild world.  Didn’t mention it is a gay love story.  Or is so far.  Also compared to Gatsby and Bright Lights Big City on the back cover, so who knows how it will keep going.  Very good so far, pointed and fun and acutely observed.  Called the Trollope of the moment.  Of the mba and banking worlds today. 

Nicholas on Facebook “Culture always trumps process. A currency is both but the former is more important than the latter, so should always reflect a shared politics, which the euro does not, so as the article says the drama continues, and the pain redoubles.”

Feeny canceled for tonight. 

I wonder if Nicholas would permit “culture” to be replaced by “history and national character”?  Of course “culture” as a term no doubt assumes both without specifying a political, ideological position on the meaning of those terms. 

Friday morning around 11.  Enjoying Pappos’s novel.  He had first-class editing on it and he writes super-well.  No workers this morning and it is not Nascar race weekend at Loudon.  Not until the 19th. 

Pappos’ book has that rushed, wild feel that makes it a “great read” if that term is still used.  Makes you feel you of all people do not know what the latest and coolest terms are and you never will.  Someone’s business card is in lower case Calibri so of course I have to stop to see if I have Calibri on here and what it looks like lowercase.  I am in Optima now.  Now I am in Calibri.  Here is all lower case calibri.  looks like the Gill sans I used to fancy. 

Here is Calibri.  Here is Gill sans and here is Gill MT.  Line there for my novel:  He couldn’t tell Calibri from Gill sans or Gill MT. 

Thurs July 16

Thurs mid-afternoon.  Just finished Pappos’s Hotel Living.  Damn him!  Amazing finish and doesn’t he just pull if off rather brilliantly!  I went through the longeurs of boredom with the drugs and hollywood, Teresa and Ray and LA, just as he wanted me to, just as he made me do, that Pappos, that Trollope!   The one key blurb on the cover says if Trollope were here he would want to write this book.  Pretty great compliment.  The book is So good that now I have to look up some reviews and get everyone to explain it to me and agree with me. 

Astonishingly beautiful day. Va out by the fountain.  Lunch and walk at Docks, saw Natalie and her friend.  We ate at the deli in the house at the other end.  Two big circular sculptures are gone, probably sold.  New dragonfly in rusty old parts.  ok but not great. 

Flora called from the bank.   Appraiser can’t file the final ok because there is no kitchen in the house.  Flora didn’t know we were already under construction.  Finally we agree that if we wait two weeks Tom from Loon appraisal can come back again and see for himself and for the housing loan regulators that there is a kitchen.  She says it is the regulator level of the process that doesn’t like using Zillow etc--well it’s new federal regulations. 

Cabinets are stacked in the dining room.  6:42 pm  Tyler, Alan and Warren came and carried them in. 

Friday night July 17 

Kitchen floor in, some cabinets in place.  Wow.  Strange feeling of regret and remorse too, or being somehow unworthy, like out house is not up to the grade of upgrade we are having done or something.  What a strange response to it all?  Strangers examining our lives and we’re not up to the level.  Making up some mythos that Alan and crew are more used to working for all the Rusty McLs of the lake district, the Hirschfields and such and we are not meant to be in the company.  Strange notions, where did they come from? 

Some leftover response from Ioannis Pappos’s novel.  I am Stathis and all that.  Can’t find that many reviews of it.?? 

Dream the other night.  I had painted a big painting, five vertical panels divided by straight lines, all one canvas.  Very satisfying gray on gray somehow, minimalist, texture with surface on top of texture.  Probably the granite piece we chose now that I think about it, but this was a lovely painting I had done.  Next scene is the gallery and the anxiety about the fact that the painting had been left out of the show, or left somewhere else, not there, not where it should have been.  Sense of loss.  Anxiety.  And pleasure that the painting was so good. 

Feeny by the way said nothing about the painting I gave him.  Not a visual guy. 

Today lunch at Norwich Inn after a fine early morning swim.  Then look at the Montshire museum and speculation on how much Emma would enjoy it.  Eliot too.  Overdrawn at the bank so came home and call generic tiaa and requested fast withdrawal.  Not here until Tues.  Just the call makes me feel clandestine and dirty somehow.  I did ask Charlie in Dallas, on the line, if this kind of call was the most popular request they get.  Yes, of course.  Nothing unique there.  Need money.  As fast as. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

from Nov 17, 2014



Developers had refurbished all the old houses on Bow Street and the agent and I perched in one of the new restaurants there sipping martinis and slurping oysters.  We watched salt being unloaded onto the Portsmouth harborside from a huge Bulgarian tanker flying under a Maltese flag from the port of Valletta.  We laughed as we savored the briney terrors of creatures and spirits unknown to us.  
A few months before, the agent had e-mailed me that she believed I could get a good contract with a small but distinguished publishing house based on a story of mine that had appeared in an obscure journal in England.  All I had to do was turn it into a novel.  I sent off a vague proposal for doing so in ways as yet unclear to me and we were eating cod cakes at an overpriced bistro in New England.  Thanks for coming up, I said.  Oh, always enjoyable to get out of the city.  Especially to go to Maine, the agent said.  This is not Maine, that is across the river there.  Well, to me it feels like Maine and is close enough.  Right.  New York has lots of things, I added, but not everything.  She asked if I had offers from other publishers?  No and if any came along I would not be enticed.  How will the novel develop she wondered?
I’ll tie in loose ends that come along as I proceed, I wished I had said.  But if she noticed my hand tremor slightly she gave no sign and I repeated my desire to stay with Frank because his reputation as a publisher I respected more than any inducements another outfit might try to offer.  Besides, I assured her this opening scene would not work in any other sort of story.
A miniature flag of the Order of the Knights of Malta stood in the corner of the bookshelf behind the receptionist and tilted against the side of the box in front of it a postcard from Valletta.  They guarded a tightly packed row of books.  Each section of the whole rosewood wall unit was loaded with books and a dusty collection of cards, notes, tiny baskets, ceramic tiles, small bowls, statuettes,  items from a hundred souvenir shops from across the globe.   I thought I would ask the young woman about the Maltese flag, but our attention became absorbed in the paperwork in front of us.  Lara wanted me to have the tests yet again even though I felt fine and we both knew we were satisfying her compulsions.  Since her father had died four years ago, somewhat suddenly of an undiagnosed cancer, she had become obsessed with making sure we both had enough tests to insure against any similar catastrophe.  I managed to keep to one such exam a year.  We waited for close to an hour, the waiting room packed with people mostly our age.  Lara was reading a long book on her iPad these days.  I had forgotten the book I was working on so I leafed through the pile of magazines.  No articles on travel escapes to Malta or any other islands I might be curious to visit.  Beautiful photo spreads of lots of sunny places, sparkling cities, remote beaches and blue depths and expanses.  
Visits to medical centers of any sort trigger thoughts in me that are by now familiar and even consoling.  In large hospitals, in small waiting rooms, we learn to savor our solitude.  Everyone is in the same situation with or without a diagnosis for a specific problem.  Death is taking down someone nearby and we don’t know it, usually, often, and we get attacked by it every so often.  Someone we know dies suddenly or gets a shock of a diagnosis.  If I am symptom free at the moment, for the time being, it makes me delighted and even more on guard as the years add on to each other in my private spinal chord plus enclosing body which it struggles to keep erect.  Hemorrhoids, new eyeglass prescription, indigestion, poor sleep every so often, anxiety attacks, nervous worries, memories of more severe breakdowns, the adolescent depressive states, the short-term hospitalization for mental or nervous problems, lowered cell count, stress-induced insomnia, stomach difficulties, poor appetite, overweight, overeating, underperforming heart rhythms, breathing difficulties, pain in the knees, arthritis that “comes with age.”  Even without a specific crisis, our baggage of health imperfections keeps filling, expanding, getting heavier.  If you’re conscious of time at thirty or forty, you begin a kind of zen reversal once you get past sixty, an aptitude for denial, for ignoring the progressions, for focusing only on the moment at hand and for imagining the next, the upcoming without imagining their worst possibilities.  Algorithms take care of realities, our hearts look for comfort at every turn, in every breath, we become masters at being grateful whether we are really grateful or not.  Our dishonesty with ourselves at what might happen now or later, turns into an unshakeable faith in what is good right now.  Ironies appeal less and less, clever observations fade before the embrace not so much of resignation as of the acceptance of the comfort and security of what is, now.  

I never knew if Lara understood any of this when I tried to say something of it.  She didn’t know, or she did know, that I couldn’t comprehend the grip her obsessions about diagnosis, about the pronouncements of a medical authority, had on her.   These visits to clinics, to doctors and medical centers, became simply entre’acts for other stage of our drama together.  Interludes.  You welcome, eventually, a patience for fulfilling the script at hand that much younger people don’t even have the convolutions in their souls to even imagine.  
I learned this during Olivia’s illness.  Anxiety, terror, depression pushed me to find some glimmer of exaltation somewhere.  When we eventually came out into the other side, it was elation stronger than I had ever felt.  I realized we learn to hover, to oscillate, to compress both feelings into a lifelong devotion to the hum of vitality itself, the faint buzz of consciousness wherein we simultaneously die and live, feel sadly joyful, desperate-ecstatic. 

Her concern for my health figured in a larger collaborative relationship we had forged and at this point her self-interest involved wanting my encouragement to go ahead and adopt an older child.  Lara brought up the possibility about a year ago, not long after her forty-eighth birthday.  We were looking at a disturbing, as always, Diane Arbus exhibit one weekday afternoon at the museum which we often visited.  Lara was self-employed, and I, now a writer.  

Lara had been my student, briefly, years before at a time when I thought I wanted to try university teaching.  It was a dull class, I realized soon enough, on contemporary novels.  She was the best student and we had a few coffees.  I went back to practice, our lives diverged.  Years later when I returned to Portland, she said hello to me one day at Whole Foods.  We fell into a friendship that never would have been possible earlier.  She and her boyfriend of years had broken up a few months earlier.  We found  we enjoyed walking around town, the promenades, the boulevard, the port.  We continued, going on six years.  Our close friends knew we enjoyed looking, not at one another, but at views, paintings, movies together.  Lara now felt age was making her face one key question:  why not adopt a child, even an older child?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Great show by Paula Poundstone last Saturday night here at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, NH.  

In her honor the final paragraph of Eric Chévillard’s wonderful book of meditations, The Crab Nebula:

     And then Crab sank into silence, slowly, inexorably, vertically, he sank in and eventually disappeared from the gaze of the audience.  There was some confusion among the spectators, a moment of uncertainty, of incomprehension, but they quickly settled on the only credible hypothesis:  a trapdoor had opened beneath Crab’s feet--of course, there was a trapdoor concealed in the stage--and by common agreement, this symbolic burial of the character, replacing the fall of the curtain or the sudden blackout that traditionally signifies the end of a show, was in itself worth the price of admission; with one blow it erased the long days of boredom that had preceded it. (Applause.)