According to George Saunders, a work of art “has to surprise its audience, which it can do only if it has legitimately surprised its creator.”
When I read that, I realized I’m not creating art. Not by a long shot. I spend heaps of time bound up, worried, self-flagellating, fighting waves of lassitude and more than a little self-loathing. I worry about my “audience,” remembering — and flinching every time I do so — the essay I read on Medium about how no one wants to read a journal entry.
I understand. I suppose it’s true. And yet. Some of my favorite writing is deeply personal. I read all but the last of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s hefty works in a fit of rapture, delighted to have found a writer who drew so totally and absorbedly from the quotidian in his own life. …
It’s Sunday afternoon, 4:21 p.m. to be exact, and the rain is falling down. I can hear it clicking, tapping, pattering, and plashing as it hits window sills, concrete driveway, ivy leaves, the narrow tops of the redwood fence. I can hear it sluicing down the gutters. I can hear small splashes hitting the window panes, an occasional gargle from a drain pipe. Certainly, I can hear black rubber tires making their rude racket, that high-pitched SHHHHH sound that’s like a handful of small pebbles dashed suddenly against glass. …
The truth is, I know no other way of writing. And yet, I fight it.
I can’t really start to write with a grand idea. I must just fiddle. Fiddle around a bit, describing my world, letting my fingers do the walking, the talking.
I’m listening to my local, commercial-free jazz station while the world around me shakes on its pedestal. I’m informed via alerts on my phone that Mike Pence refuses to invoke the 25th amendment to remove the maniac at the helm in the White House.
Covid-19 rages on. My daughter is in Los Angeles, one of the world’s most severe hot spots. …
I meditated this morning. It was a pathetic facsimile of meditation, I’m afraid. I placed the new purple zafu and zabuton that I got from Luigi for Christmas at the top of my yoga mat. I set the timer on my phone for twenty minutes. I sat cross-legged, straightened my spine, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.
My mind ricocheted wildly within the confines of my skull. A list of things to do began to write itself. It got so bad that I had to get up for a notepad and pen. Or, I believed I had to.
I went on many rides from the platform of my head, down all kinds of alleys, most of them dead-ends. Only occasionally and briefly was I able to bring myself back to the task at hand: my breath. Simply noticing the breath. …
The MeToo Movement is important for obvious reasons. Bad actors who have gotten away with egregious predatory behavior need to be brought to heel, by the law or public pressure or whatever means are necessary.
But, I hope being woke to the power imbalances that have existed does not rob young people of the art of flirtation, courtship, seduction, and surrender. The idea that people should obtain formal verbal consent before they cross a certain line in the seduction process depresses me.
Of course, if there is any ambiguity at all, the question shouldn’t even be asked. …
I have a complicated relationship with money.
I know many of us do, and the truism (that may also be true) is that women, especially, do.
My family seems to be particularly troubled by money and money issues.
There are so many reasons. Teasing them apart is the work. Am I ready to write an article explaining definitively what happened in my family around money, to try to illustrate why I and my three siblings are evidently hampered when it comes to understanding, caring for, or using this precious resource?
But half the reason I write essays is to try to figure this kind of shit out. …
I have a dream. It’s been steeping for quite a while. I think the idea was hatched, or at least strengthened, one Fourth of July holiday three or four years ago.
My son and I went to the parade and picnic in Piedmont, a small, wealthy community tucked within the boundaries of Oakland.
We spread our blanket beneath the benevolent branches of an ancient oak. Nearby a large, mixed-race group with multiple baskets laden with fragrant picnic food and wine kindly offered us pieces of tender jerk chicken, squares of ambrosiac black cake, and cups of wine.
The group was mostly from Jamaica and Nigeria. We spoke about their journeys to the U.S. and were fortunate to hear some of their tales. …
I sometimes think I have forgiven my mother.
But that’s just because I don’t know what forgiveness means. What it is, what it does, how it feels.
Kind of like I don’t know how love with a man is, feels, or does. How you know it’s love and not pity, or guilt, or responsibility, or just a kind of general tenderness, the same you’d feel for the mama skunk you glimpse out your living room window, with a line of six or seven baby skunks following her spectacular tail?
Is that love?
I thought sitting at my mother’s bedside for a full 30 days while she did her dying was forgiveness. I mean, it was a kind of forgiveness, I am sure. …
It’s Christmas 2020, in the year of the pandemic. These last ten months have been in turn odd, scary, and monotonous. But I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a job I can do online, from home, and I have to admit, this has been the most peaceful Christmas of my life.
First, with the pandemic, there is less to do. My three-hour round-trip commute has become a thing of the past. …
Last year, friends invited us last minute to Pinnacles National Park. We scurried around, grabbing this and that to throw in a backpack: crackers, apples, bananas, cookies, and a couple of tins of sardines.
We walked through narrow canyons and straw-colored meadows, alongside forbidding rock faces, and eventually up to a look-out comprised of massive round boulders where we plopped ourselves down, famished, and began opening our rucksacks.
Our friend passed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out to her kids. I pulled out our bag of plain crunchy crackers and the two innocent-looking tins. I draped a dishtowel over my knees, braced my elbows to reduce the chances of flinging fish oil on anyone near, inserted my index finger into the little metal loop, and pulled, as carefully as possible. The can creaked. …