PN Review article

The latest PN Review arrived in my mailbox this week and it carries an article (I'm actually not sure what to call it, but anyway, a piece of prose writing) that I wrote and rewrote for years

and will probably revise again once I get over the shock of seeing it in print.

Here's a link:


End of morning, Saturday

The sun is trying to come out, without, so far, much success. I don't know if it's fog or clouds, but we are going to the Cantor cafe for lunch, so I hope it's warm enough to eat outside.

Caught up with some friends this week, one for lunch, one long distance on the phone from Boston, where she and her husband moved from the Paris area about a year ago. She is American, he French, and she can't get over how nice people are--she forgot. It's strange because you only notice these difference for a while, a few months, a year after you move and then everything shifts and seems normal and hardly worth commenting on. I notice this every time we go back and forth between here and Europe. You note, in writing, a flurry of things in the first flush of arrival on either side of the Atlantic, then it all begins to seem repetitive.

A young, Swiss woman in my graduate seminar (Socrates) said what she missed most in California was Europe's health system(s). (Can't remember how the subject came up, maybe because we were talking about Eryximachus', the doctor's speech in the Symposium?

And so to lunch.





Noon o-five and there's a small plane buzzing overhead, round and round, and I've just laid down Douglas Dunn's book of poems The Noise of a Fly (2017, Faber), from which I am trying to learn something, not so much about form, which he excells at, as about honesty, getting to the bottom of things, not sounding poetic, but like oneself, whoever that is.

The plane is dragging an advertisement for a bike shop fire sale.

Over to Berkeley this afternoon for my poetry group. Picking Peter (Dale Scott) up on my way. Taking a tarte tatin, as my contribution to dinner, after workshopping one another's work. Chances are the conversation will be political.

Middle child emailed from Hong Kong this morning, with pictures of food. I had no idea she was there. But the food looked yummy.


Hard, as always, to settle back into one's groove after being away, even just for a few days. I'm a creature of habit--is that a good thing or a bad in this part of the world where 'disruption' is the mantra; ie, thinking 'out of the box'? I'm quite happy with my box. Probably shouldn't admit this.


The routine: mornings spent writing and reading, legs stretched out on my (made) bed, books spread around, cups of tea or coffee or hot water with lemon, a handful of almonds. Lunch a salad and fruit, then a class and the gym and maybe the library, home to more reading. Classes at the moment are 1) The art of madness given by a psychiatrist-fiction writer, an hour and a half twice a week with slides. At the moment he is talking about delusions in psychosis and the art includes Elyn Saks' book about her (high-achieving) life with schizophrenia: The Center Cannot Hold. 

2) My other class is in Classics, a graduate seminar on Plato and Eros, texts The Symposium and Phaedrus. That's 3 hours, once a week, with a long and fascinating reading list of secondary texts and terrific discussions among the dozen or so participants, several of them auditors like me.

I'm also reading Peter Handke, lots of poets, of course, including Kenneth Koch, Douglas Dunn and Hardy--and following the political situation here much too closely, like everyone I know.

St Juan Island

Heading up to Seattle tomorrow morning to spend a few days on St Juan Island--about as close as you can get to Canada without actually crossing the border. My daughter is moving up there with her family. Since I grew up not far away I have warned her about the rain (it's raining here today, mind, but that's not usual in the Bay Area). Weirdly they have set their sights on a coastline that is straight across (what's the body of water there?) from the patch of coastline my grandparents settled, where my first memories are of the wilderness and beach (now well populated, with five houses on the lot my grandparents had for themselves). So far the photos I've seen look pretty familiar--log-strewn beaches, strands of kelp (that we'd carve faces in or on), big rainforest-y trees. 

Beautiful day--just the right temperature, not too hot and not too cold, with a bit of a breeze. I'm learning to bike--not ride a bike, but go up small hills and whatnot. My objective is the Stanford Loop, a 14 or so mile run up Sandhill Road and back down Portola and Alpine. Unfortunately the first leg of of it is on a four-lane road with lots of traffic because it leads to the freeway down to St Jose or north to San Francisco. Today I got as far as Whisky Hill Road. Next week--a little more. Oh no, next week we are going to St Juan Island, so it will have to be the week after that.

Meanwhile I've signed up to audit a classics department seminar in Plato on Love: the Symposium and Phaedrus, which begins this Tuesday, and darn, I'm going to miss the first week of that because we'll still be in St Juan. 

The sun is setting behind the western hills, through some kind of white-flowering street tree (I really ought to know its name) which is rapidly filling out with leaves and hiding the hills. The wistaria is in bloom over the building's front entrance, and four pinkish-reddish tulips friends gave us are nodding on the deck.

Handel and Easter chocolates: la friture

Easter weekend. When I was a child ('I spoke as a child, I...'), church-going was compulsory. I have (somewhere) badges, tiny pins  they gave us in Sunday School at the end of each year to reward us for 100% attendance. I probably have one for every year from the age of 6 to 18.  I can't remember what happened there, except memorising verses from the Bible, which stood me good stead when I spent Christmas a couple of times in my 20s with Mennonite friends who lived outside Winnipeg. We'd met teaching in Kumasi, Ghana, me as a Canadian (CUSO) peace corps volunteer and them as a trained teachers sent abroad by the Canadian government. Will and Leona Penner and their children. I've lost touch with them, unfortunately, but I do remember sitting around one member of their extended family's living room in a week when their chicken barns were freezing, and everyone reciting in turn a verse from the bible. In my panic--I've never been comfortable speaking in public--I could remember only one verse (John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world...'). No one else said it before my turn came.


Not many Easter memories. In fact the main one is going to church in a hat and sitting in a row in a pew and standing to sing (Presbyterian hymns). Probably the Hallalujah chorus, rendered by the choir. My granddad used to sing in the choir, so it was always good to sing along beside him. Aside from that...?  Well, my French mother-in-law celebrated Easter by giving us wonderful French chocolates, including a specialty called 'la friture': tiny dark and light chocolates in the shape of fishes and shells. Often they were the surprise filling in the huge chocolate Easter eggs she never failed to send us, even when we were living abroad. And of course any French pastry shop at this time of year will have them.



I had been thinking I wanted to read a book of Christopher Hitchen's. After all, we apparently, according to my dentist, shared a dentist in Menlo Park. So I went to the library and the most inviting one was small and black and had one of those one-word titles so popular at the moment: Mortality. I knew he'd died, not long ago, and not at 104 or something, like a lot of people these days (have you noticed that if you are flying on Delta and they offer you a drop-down box from which to choose your age, one of the categories is '100+'?) but at 60-something.

But I also know he is revered for his wit and writing and his contentiousness, and I like all these things. 

Still when I opened it just now and found that chapter one began with a terminal cancer diagnosis I hesitated. I thought it might bring me bad luck. I was superstitious.