from the notebooks

Random quote of the day:

“I suppose I think of the notebook as a house for words, as a secret place for thought and self-examination.

—Paul Auster, The Paris Review, No. 167, Fall 2003

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

From the notebooks, March 17, 1998. I don’t know if this is a quote I heard, or something I paraphrased from a news item, or what. This sat in the notebook all by itself with no clues for my later self.

“This is our land.
We own it with our blood,
and we will keep it
no matter what the cost.
We will fight them
to the last child
if they do not recognize
our claim.”

In the trees behind his head
a host of songbirds
amongst the blossoms
numberless as angels
on the head of a pin
burst forth in singing
in tribute to the morning
before scattering to earth
to devour worms.

This entry is from February 29, 1998. Do I still agree with it? For the most part, I think I do.

I don’t know any serious artist who isn’t wounded in some way. Art is the thread Ariadne gave Theseus when he was sent into the Labyrinth towards the Minotaur. That thread, unwinding from the surface of the world, allows the artist to wander the dark and confusing ways of the Labyrinth to its core where the Minotaur waits. More importantly, once the Minotaur has been slain, that thread allows the serious artist to find a way back out of the underground and reemerge into the sunlight.

By serious artist, I don’t just mean someone who does serious art; I mean anyone who is compelled to do art of any kind, has no choice but to write it, paint it, enact it, sing it. Anyone who is possessed, even if they do art for no audience but themselves, uses that art to heal their soul. Soul not in a religious sense (at least not exclusively), but as a metaphor for that thing inside each of us which cries out to be more than the sum of our neuroses, our good and bad experiences. That thing deep inside which knows the right and wrong of our own heart.

Art is not the only way to steer this path through the Labyrinth, but it is the one which crosses the most boundaries of belief, because you don’t have to be of any particular credo to be an artist. You just have to have the need.

I’ve been trying to dig myself out of the mounds of acquired stuff that have begun to seem more a burden than preserved treasures. Part of this has been cleaning up and getting rid of old paper files and odds n’ ends in filing cabinets and boxes. Sometimes I actually throw them away; sometimes I digitize them then throw them away. Other times I run across relics of my past that aren’t really worthy of preservation—except, maybe, as personal historical documents. Signs and portents from a much younger me which now and then have messages for the present.

I came across one of those today, something written on a scrap of paper when I was about fourteen or fifteen. There was some scribbling in imitation of a novel called Jesus Christs by A. J. Langguth that made a big impression on me back then. Not great writing on my part, but I find it as hard to be disdainful of that child who was me as I would find it impossible to be disdainful of any fourteen or fifteen-year-old child trying to find their way in the creative world. I will digitize this page, even though it isn’t “worthy.”

We need to protect our young selves because they still exist inside us, still need to be nurtured and told it’s okay to come out of hiding. They are part of us, no matter how we may deny them or what sophisticated masks overlay their faces.

On the bottom of this same preserved page was another message, scrawled in a different pen and in obvious distress—not the fat, rounded characters of my “artistic” handwriting.

Why am I so cruel and impatient? He’s old and needs help. He needs someone to listen to his stories and make him feel good.

That one sent a chill through me. That young girl was speaking of her biological father, already a senior citizen when she was born. What chilled me? It made me realize that my life has been bracketed by the care and consideration of two old people. When I was young, my father—much older than my mother, and now, of course, as the wheel turns round and round…it’s my mother.

In between these brackets existed a time for me, a precious and fleeting time, but I didn’t realize that. I piffled it away, had some fun, worried too much about inconsequential things, thinking my time infinite and solely my own. I don’t believe I’m alone in this kind of behavior, this illusion, as many a human seems incapable of grasping the passage of time. I have done a lot of gazing in crystal balls in the course of my life, consulting with the tarot and the runes and the lines in the palm of my hand. I got quite good at telling fortunes. I could really sell it, you know? Weave a good story for the marks…

Like many and many a fortune, my own held good and bad, steady going and crumbling steps, the expected and unexpected—none of which, really, was picked up by the crystal or the cards or the lines or the runes. Like many and many a future, mine held a large dose of irony that oracles seem very poor at ferreting out of the aethyr.

I haven’t kept notebooks all my life, just most of my life. I think I must have gotten the first when I was ten or eleven. Although it was dubbed on the outside “My Diary,” I rarely went more than a week with any prototypical diary entries. In fact, it was neatly divided into three or four modest “day” entries per page andI routinely wrote over several days’ worth for each entry. These little books always tended to be more like journals, sometimes filled with activities, but mostly filled with emotional screeds, commentaries on the world, philosophical ramblings. Later, they tended to fill up with bits and pieces of my writing: character sketches, poems, dialog runs, etc., etc.—mixed in with the emotional screeds, commentaries, philosophy. They have mostly been cheap paper-cover books, but once or twice I’ve bought something really fancy, like this one:


This one cost far more money than rational me wanted to spend, but the excitable part of me had to have it. Or, actually, it had to have the one made of brown leather. Black leather has always had less appeal to me. I kept circling back to the store and fondling that book for weeks, but fortunately, the rational me got the excitable one to wait until the notebook had been marked down and I had a gift certificate. By that time, sadly, all the brown leather ones had sold out—but that did not deter me. I’d obsessed about the damned thing and so I was going to have it. Let’s not speak of acquisitiveness gone mad, shall we?

That was a few years ago now and I have never written a word in it. I just can’t bring myself to violate those pages with the usual screeds, ramblings, and commentaries. What am I saving it for? I have no idea, but there is sits, beautifully occupying a shelf. Seems a waste, but we’re not talking rational processes here. The rational me and the excitable one walk hand-in-hand, but it’s often an uneasy partnership, each pulling hard in the opposite direction.

When I was about thirteen and walking around the back yard of our old house in Venice in a moony state (not at all uncommon in those days), something kept nudging me to go to the little walk space behind the “garage.” Garage is a euphemistic term for the structure on the back end of our property. Basically it was a couple of strung together rattletrap sheds which hadn’t seen paint since the Trojan War and had a distinct lean to the south. My biodad stored his tools and an inordinate amount of Important Guy Stuff in the larger shed. The smaller shed sometimes held fertilizer and the like for his prodigious garden. Behind this structure was a pathway about five feet wide at the very back end of the property. An enormous wire fence kept the riff raff of the neighborhood (my family) from entering the property on the other side, the Edgemar Dairy.

Dairy is also a euphemistic term, as no actual cows wandered the premises. It was a processing plant and staging area for Edgemar trucks to fill up with ice and cart their loads of milk, cottage cheese, fruit drinks, etc., to stores. An enormous ice-crushing machine sat on the other side of that wire fence and it would start going at about two or three in the morning. (That, and being in the flight path of Santa Monica airport, helped train me to be the talented sleeper that I am to this very day.) The positioning of the ice-crushing machine against the property line was intentional, one in a long series of harassments the dairy management folks concocted in an effort to get us and our neighbor to sell out cheap to them and move. It didn’t work. We were made of sterner (and more spiteful) stuff than they imagined. They never did get our property. But that’s another story…

So anyway, something urged thirteen-year-old me to go behind the garage, telling me I’d find something special. I’d been back there countless times and the rational was skeptical—but the Believer was game. When I walked this familiar path, what did I spy? A little notebook lying just beside the fence on the dairy side: a cheapie, maybe 4×7, black leatherette, spiral bound. I could reach quite easily under where the wire of the fence didn’t quite meet the concrete and pull it to me. It was full of paper, every page blank, and it must not have been there long because it wasn’t damp or dirty. Well! The Believer thought I’d been given a Very Special Gift from the universe. The Skeptic (active even at that tender age) thought some schmuck had dropped it in the wee hours while filling his truck up with ice and disturbing my sleep. But I held onto that notebook for years—and kept it as empty as that expensive model. I just could bring myself to violate the pages.

The Believer always seems to be saving these things for that something special that never quite materializes.

(This post is really about Skepticism and Belief.)


I heard on NPR yesterday morning that they’re doing a new version of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on Broadway.  It opened yesterday, I believe.  Hearing the actors going through their lines, the discussion of the play, put me into a fervent reverie.  I can’t express how much I love this play—my favorite by Stoppard, maybe one of my favorites ever.  I loved it so much back in the 90s when they staged in at the Mark Taper Forum that I went to see it twice.  This was back in the day when theater tickets were a rare treat for me because I was astonishingly broke.  And I bought a copy of the play so I could read through it when I felt the need.

Why did I love it so?  As I said in my notebooks back on December 14, 1997:

I love this play.  It’s all about losing and finding, discovery and rediscovery, but most of all, about living in the precise moment.  It’s also about chaos theory.

But that’s not all of it.  There’s the beauty of the language, too, but layers and layers of things speak to me.  Too much to say and I have no time right now to say it, what with going and coming and coming and going, and losing and gaining and gaining and losing.  All I can say is that it has echoed through my heart over and over in the years since I first saw it.  It turns out, I guess, that bittersweet is my favorite flavor.

Since I have no time for more than that, I’ll leave you with the rest of that notebook entry, which wisely relies for the most part on the play to make its case:

From Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, Act I, Scene III

Lady Thomasina, aged 13 and precociously brilliant in an age that does not respect the brilliance of women (1809) is talking to her tutor, Septimus, aged 22, who very much respects the brilliance of Thomasina.

Thomasina: But instead, the Egyptian noodle [Cleopatra] made carnal embrace with the enemy who burned the great library of Alexandria without so much as a fine for all that is overdue.  Oh, Septimus!—can you bear it?  All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides—thousands of poems—Aristotle’s own library brought to Egypt by the noodle’s ancestors!  How can we sleep for grief?

Septimus: By counting our stock.  Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady!  You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old.  We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.  The procession is very long and life is very short.  We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language.  Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more.  Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.  You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?

[Then the bit about why I loved it, then this bit:]

And here’s something from old Ezra Pound, that crock, that echoes through my mind when I think of that passage above:

From Pisan Canto LXXXI:

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee