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All morning long, I’ve been musing over poor Evelyn Waugh who died of a broken heart because some B level pal told him he was boring.

I suppose I’m boring.

That’s because I’ve always been much more interested in books, and ideas, and the swoop of people’s lives, and those strange, uncategorized floaters of unencapsulated memory that seem to pop up at the oddest times, than I am in sex, celebrity, status detail that’s grounded in marketing trends rather than personal style.

I mean, if – for example – I decided to write about my sexual history over five decades, this could be the most popular blog on the Internet, right? Mick Jagger: Uncircumcised. His dick was maybe five and a half/ six inches. Very lazy! You had to crawl on top of him and grind! Celebrity spoils the mutuality ethic. It was a lot of work getting him off in fact, so much work that very little concentration was left to get myself off. But, hey! Mick Jagger.



Actually, that description of Mick Jagger would bore most readers, too. Celebrity spoils the mutuality ethic, they’d think. Huh? What does “mutuality” mean? What’s an ethic? Why didn't she give him a score between 1 and 10?

Maybe I just can’t write anything that interests anyone other than me-e-e-e!


Strange, unsettled day. Tropical Storm Jose safely out to sea, but the winds are high and dense with moisture here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley so that walking any distance at all, one gets the sense of displacing one’s own weight.

One project, I need to finish; one project, I need to start. But you know me! I’m all about the meh.

I really need to have a long transcendental conversation with someone. That would get me back on track. I’m not isolated, but there’s practically no one in these parts who likes to have long, transcendental conversations. But those are catalysts for me. Plus they ground me in my own non-boringness. [Insert wistful smiley.]
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Spent another day doing absolutely nothing.

This is probably Not Good since starting this evening, I’m embarking upon ten – count ‘em! – days of intense socialization with (one assumes) limited opportunities for revenue generation or imagination mining.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Absolutely nothing seems to be what I like to do.

Other people like to drink, take drugs, and party; climb Mt. Everest; sail yachts; watch PornHub; have orgies; eat German sausages; cook Italian food etc etc.

I like to do nothing.

Why not indulge myself?


In the afternoon, I did venture out in the oh-so-oppressive heat – 92 degrees, dew point 74 – to do some light shopping at Ocean State Job Lot. Ocean State is a bottom feeder in the liquidator food chain.

The setup of the store physically nauseates me – crude shelves, fluorescent lighting, no attempt at display – and yet I find myself really fascinated with the place: This is where brands go to die. It’s artificially created demand’s graveyard.

This is where Nabisco unloads all those Watermelon Oreos and Banana Split Oreos that nobody in their right mind would ever buy at a supermarket.

Wiffle ball set, anyone? Ocean State’s got like a billion of them.

Discontinued olive oils doctored with chlorophyll? Right this way.

I particularly like the counter of anti-aging skin serums, which since they’re the same ones being sold for $80-plus at various mall anchor client department stores, one must assume are years past their expiration dates so all those carcinogenic chemicals have had a chance to ripen and burst into bloom:


Sometimes, it's true, you can find rare and wondrous things. Where else outside an ethnic grocery store (where you would certainly be overcharged) would you find six separate flavors of dried seaweed?

But in general, what you are looking at is the retail equivalent of cholesterol plaque.


Why the hell is there so much surplus inventory? Be-caw-w-w-se… we have an economy that owes the illusion of its robustness to the production of crud.

This would seem to indicate that inefficiencies exist at some very basic level of the capitalist economic model, no? It’s a particularly interesting question in light of the fact that bricks and mortar retail is under siege right now. Customers much prefer to buy their useless retail items online, which adds yet another layer of inefficiencies (distribution and transportation costs) to the model.

Really, it’s an unsustainable model.

Artificially created demand a/k/a marketing is a great way to persuade people to buy things they don’t want and can’t afford, but as the cost of things that people actually need to survive like housing, energy, and food continues to spiral and the gap between the 1% and the 99% continues to grow, ya gotta think at some point, in the not so distant future, this business model implodes.

I could write all day about this one.

But I’ve got to drag my sorry ass out on the trails before the temps hit 90.
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Woke up in the middle of the night to the loudest peal of thunder you can possibly imagine. I’d been caught in one of those labyrinthine dreams that are so enveloping, so elaborate they’re like alternate lives, but all I can remember from that parallel existence now is that I was holding a baby. The baby had been hideously neglected; I’d actually caught it when it had fallen off of something. It had the most adorable, serious, earnest little face; it wanted so desperately to please.

Mama, I said to the baby, and its little lips pushed together, trying to make an M sound. Dada, I told it, and it struggled to make a D, all the while peering at me anxiously: Do you like me? Please like me!


When I woke up at my regular time this morning, I was dreaming of Balinese music. Odd. In my 20s, I really loved Balinese music and listened to it all the time. But I haven’t listened to Balinese music in years.


Thunder in the Hudson Valley is like thunder no place else. Something about a valley bisected by a river surrounded by low mountains. A single peal of thunder can go on and on and on for 30 seconds.


I’ve been in a funk for the last few days.

That asshole still hasn’t paid me, and though that hasn’t had a ripple effect on finances in general – and probably won’t have a ripple effect since Scut Factory funds kick in tomorrow – it still had the effect of making me feel absolutely worthless on some essential level because (A) It’s a relatively small amount of $$$ and yet, I’m so marginal that the lack of it has a measurable impact; and (B) because I’m absolutely powerless to make this asshole pay up. He’s apologetic, citing cash flow problems of his own. As soon as he gets his $$$, he’ll pay me my money. Etc, etc. But I don’t give a shit about his cash flow problems. He should have figured out his cash flow problems before he hired me to write his oh-so-boring legal research paper. Which I turned into something interesting.

Being in this kind of funk paralyzes me on some basic level. It leaves me absolutely unable to focus, shrinks my already microscopic concentration span to something that approaches Alzheimer’s levels. I crave distraction. I’d love to get drunk or high. (I’m scrupulously avoiding alcohol and consciousness expanders because I don’t think the impulse to get drunk or high when I’m feeling like this is a mentally healthy impulse.)

It’s kind of like being trapped in dead space.


I should just pull out one of the current projects and do eeeet.

‘Cause you know. It’s never any more mystical or more complicated than that.


Samir talked to me for a long time about djinn this morning. Apparently, everyone who lives in the Atlas Mountains believes in djinn, even if they’re deeply immersed in programming projects that require the use of the VHSIC Hardware Description Language, which is the easiest way to get integrated circuits to communicate with one another.

I like scientists whose thought processes are not constrained by the empirical model.

“Yes, I think you are the type of people djinn talk to,” he said, but when I asked him to elaborate upon that remark, he shook his head and laughed.
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Summer in the country is punctuated by the sound of machines. The thrum of lawnmowers. The buzz of trucks depositing natural gas into basement tanks so that air conditioning units can continue to run. Weird undefined hums that could be the sound of equipment sucking out a septic tank or could be the mating call of some gargantuan Godzilla insect preparing to take out Hyde Park.

I have no real-time social encounters scheduled for the next week. Which is kind of a drag, but also deliberate: I had three social events scheduled last week that I elected not to make appearances at since it was very evident to me that I had been invited to be one of the extras charged with providing background clamor. Free liquor just isn’t worth that.

I’m lonely. I’d like a playmate. I like the people I know in Hyde Park, but except for Ed and Pat, I wouldn’t say that anyone here speaks my language.

When I was younger, I hated those mundane little conversations that most people have: Stop and Shop is having a sale on mangoes! I went to Crave for lunch and I had this fabulous little salad with fresh beets! CVS was out of my thyroid meds, can you imagine?

Now, I sort of enjoy them. I see them as neutral interfaces through which friendly intentions are announced. It’s a type of verbal signaling that substitutes for the fact that humans are uncomfortable sniffing each others’ butts.

But it’s not banter. And it’s not the exchange of ideas. So it’s not play.

Or at least it's not a type of play that captures my imagination.

With all his faults – and their name was legion – Ben was a most excellent playmate. And I miss that.

I can’t imagine a time when I won’t miss that.

And I can’t imagine finding another such playmate.
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Feeling really, really awful for poor RTT – who failed his chemistry final, which means he failed his chemistry class, which means once again his graduation is in doubt.

The kid really tried. Studied hard, took practice tests, did study groups with his friends.

Probably why he got so depressed: He knew without knowing.

There’s a big knot in my stomach and that awful adrenalin lurch in my shoulders.

Because there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make it better for him. Nada.

He’s gonna have to get up, dust himself off, go in to see his academic advisor, see if they will let him substitute a summer school class – Tompkins Community College teaches an equivalent class – and just generally deal with it.

Chemistry was virtually impossible for me, too, back in the Jurassic when I took it at UCB.

Well. Not all chemistry – I actually got As in Organic Chemistry from a notoriously difficult teacher, William Calvin, Nobel Laureate. But that’s because Organic Chemistry is mostly an exercise in applied acrostics. I still remember the final: You are on an island with access to every catalyst and reagent known to man, and EtOH. Synthesize [name of your complex polysaccharide goes here.]

But Physical Chemistry. I would have flunked Physical Chemistry. Except that Berkeley had a student strike that quarter, and the professor was sympathetic. So I got a very, very low C-.

I mean, the Ideal Gas Law. UGH.

Robin suffers from what I suffer from: This notion that if you’re innately talented at something, then that something can’t be worth pursuing.

Neither of us is innately talented at chemistry. So hey! We gotta take chemistry classes. So we can flunk 'em.

The very definition of low self-esteem.

I understand why I have low self-esteem.

But I don’t understand why Robin has low self-esteem.

How did I fail him?


Between feeling horrible for Robin and feeling beaten down in the whole political arena, yesterday was not a very good day. I toiled at the Scut Factory. I went out in the afternoon, tried to exercise, but got tired and winded after a mile and a half.

What’s the point of being alive? I wondered.

Which is a ridiculous question.

There is no point.

You just are.

You deal with it.

You try to strike the right balance between distraction and mindfulness.

The rest is just brain chemicals.
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Problem with laboring at the Scut Factory is that I don’t wanna labor at the Scut Factory.

I’m really pissed at my great-great-grandfather for not being an industrialist at the forefront of the expansion of the American steel industry, or the American tugboat industry, or the American department store so that I could inherit great wads of cash and spend my time creating great art! Or, as is more likely, Googling Real Housewives of New York backstories.

I’m restless.

That translates as discontent.

I want more money.

I want a Best Friend who lives next door and with whom I can have long, intense, caffeine-fueled conversations about Derrida and Alfred the Great and the importance of serial commas. I wanna walk the suspension bridge that separates Buda from Pest. I want lots of attention so that I can fling my forearm across my forehead and declaim dramatically: Please! Stop paying attention to me!

Most of all, I want to be possessed by the spirit of a literary wraith – maybe Dead Scott Fitzgerald who sees where he went wrong compiling architecturally perfect sentence upon architecturally perfect sentence and is open to plushing things out a little so that readers can relax mid-paragraph – and I want that wraith to finish the damn novels!

Oh, and one more thing: I want to be razor sharp at all times. I don’t want my first reaction upon coming back from hiking or running to be, Hmmm… This would be a great time for a nap.


Else? Yesterday was pretty much a wash. Like I say, I’m not big on Easter.

I’m thinking that the last of the Great Technological Sea Changes in my lifetime was actually the invention of streaming video. (Maria was far more visionary 20 years ago than I gave her credit for being at the time.) Who doesn’t love watching movies or long-format episodic TV? It stimulates exactly the same neural centers in the brain that dreaming does. Consequently, all you need to dream your life away is a Netflix subscription. And who’s to say that wouldn’t be a life well-spent?

In 2015, Netflix subscribers on average spent 1.5 hours every day binge-watching TV shows and bad 90s movies. In 2015, there were 75 million Netflix subscribers; by the end of 2016, there were 93 million subscribers.

Watching a film or a TV show is a far more immersive experience for most people than reading a book. Even for me in most instances – and I’m a reader. It’s the hermeneutics of written text that captivate me, primarily. That and the knowledge that an entire, complex, imagined world can emerge from the brain of just one single person. No collaboration required.

That’s why I’ve never had the slightest interest in filmmaking. That’s why all I’ve ever wanted to do is write stories. When push comes to shove, I don't work and play well with others.
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Spring is on a fast track. We’re deep into forsythia, daffodils, flowering dogwood.

I’ve spent the week dreaming about the Middle Ages, musing about the rise of religion and governance. Wondering whether such cultural artifacts might not be the equivalents of intellectual technologies: the one a distribution system for the distilled wisdom of the collective unconscious; the other, a practical tool for the suppression of violence.

Of course, religion and governance did not arise in the Middle Ages. Those technologies had been invented at least three times before, and possibly more often than that.
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I ran a few errands yesterday after six hours of performing Selfless Public Service. And then I went straight to bed.

At the time, I thought I was being incredibly lazy. Or that I was depressed.

This morning, my nose is running, and my ears are doing that phantom tinnitus thing. I’ve been sneezing nonstop. Even though I slept 12 hours and drank espresso, I’m still exhausted. And achy. And peevish. So, I think I’m fighting off some kind of infection, and my body understood that yesterday even before I began developing symptoms.

Clever body!

The day is shaping up to be an ordeal: I’m supposed to go to a birthday party this afternoon, and I can’t cancel without creating all sorts of Bad Feelings.


It snowed yesterday morning. In the afternoon, the sun came out, but the temperatures dropped. The snow formed crystals on the trees that looked exactly like some kind of fruit blossom. Eerie. Beautiful.


I’m feeling disgusted by the political narratives on both sides. L actually got really mad at me for suggesting that Obama might not be entirely innocent of the spying charges Trump dropped on him.

“They’re not true!” she told me indignantly. “Obama is a decent man! He would never do something like that!”

“Oh, c’mon, Linda,” I said. “Obama was the least transparent President since Richard Nixon. Don’t get me wrong – he’s someone I’d love to sit next to at a dinner party. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some scintilla of veracity behind Trump’s Captain Queeg-like levels of paranoia.”

L got so mad that she actually stormed out of the room in a huff.

I keep going back to Bion of Borysthenes:

The boys throw stones at the frogs for sport.
But the frogs die in earnest.

Bion knew of what he wrote: He was born into a low class family and for some offense the father or the mother committed (probably equivalent to the modern crime of jaywalking), the entire family was sold into slavery. Somehow he managed to become a Famous Philosopher, working his way through every ideological sect in turn – Academics, Cynics, Hedonists – until finally he became an Aristotealian. I figure he figured Aristotle where the big bucks lay in ancient Greece.

But the quote I reference above isn’t particularly Aristotelian.

It’s just true.
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I collapsed yesterday.

Not quite literally.

But almost literally.

Went out to go running. Stood at the trailhead and felt weak. Thought, There is no fucking way I can do this.

Came home. Ate monstrously huge piece of chocolate cake.

The world is just an awful place.

Terrorist explosions on plane. The imminence of a new Cold War with China. Zika virus. The travesty of the upcoming Presidential face-off between two morally corrupt and despicable candidates.

Cats, I thought. Just don’t think about anything but cats. Maybe dollhouses. Maybe dead post-Romantic writers. But mostly cats.


Finished Careless People; started Richard Russo’s memoir, Elsewhere.

Careless People almost certainly started out as Sarah Churchwell’s PhD thesis. Not exactly sure which parts she added for book publication – maybe the stuff about the Hall/Mills murder? Except the stuff about the murders feels just weird and disconnected enough to have been a central hypothesis in some graduate student’s sleep-deprived brain. The murders hardly seems to have anything to do with the ambiance around the lives of a monumentally self-involved young couple in the early 1920s.

I do enjoy reading about Scott and Zelda’s self-involvement.

Because I know exactly what’s going to come next.


I’m a Fitzgerald completist in the sense that I read everything Fitzgerald ever wrote by the time I was in my mid-20s – all four and a half novels, every obscure short story in The Saturday Evening Post archives, the crack-up essays, everything. I’ve also read just about every Fitzgerald biography.

This isn’t because I like Fitzgerald particularly as a writer although I will grant that he has moments of such hard-faceted brilliance as a technician of the written language that certain of his books seem to emit a detectable glow on the shelf in the dusty library stacks to which they’ve been consigned.

Thus there is this:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.

The justifiably celebrated closing line of The Great Gatsby.

Which, unfortunately, is preceded by this:

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—

Which is the kind of prosaic sermonizing so commonplace in all American lit-ra-tchure written before Hemingway did us all a big favor and streamlined the language.

No, my interest in Fitzgerald exists because his life is a passion play for me. First act: Aspiration; unstoppable ego and ambition of youth. Second act: Pride. Third act: Self-immolation. Fourth act: The Confederate soldier limps home along a road lined with burned mansions. Maybe one of those mansions is Gatsby’s mansion. I dunno.

Fitzgerald’s life is much more interesting to me than anything he ever wrote. In the same way that Byron’s life is much more interesting to me than anything he ever wrote.

The other day, I stumbled across an actual recording of Fitzgerald’s voice. He’s reading from Othello of all things. When I see photos of Fitzgerald with that brilliantined hair parted in the middle and that cupie doll face, I figure he just never talked! No one ever talked in the 1920s! They just skittered around really fast – projection speeds back then were only 12 frames per second – and when they wanted to communicate with one another, they did it through subtitles that they conjured up through some kind of ectoplasm.

But, no, here’s proof.

Not only did Fitzgerald talk, he actually sounded like Will Rogers. That Midwestern twang is unmistakable.

I would kinda like to get back to writing my own flawed novel today. I’m back to writing chronologically, which puts me at Chapter 3 – with vast bits of subsequent chapters already drafted. I have to jump from June’s memories of her father to the dinner with Miller and Emil Cohen where Cohen immediately recognizes that June is Jewish. (Judaism is playing a central role in this novel.) It’s kind of a tricky transition: I’ve made two attempts at it now, and neither one works.

Maybe I'll just start in the middle and write my way to the periphery.
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“We’re taking you out to dinner tonight for your birthday,” L informed me.

I’d kinda sat on my birthday this year – in contrast to my usual incessant wheedling and moaning. So, I was pleasantly surprised.

L and C took me to a famous family restaurant with reasonably good food. The bartender did not know how to make a Manhattan, but that’s okay – I like drinking bourbon straight.

At the table next to us, a Ghanian family was celebrating some special occasion. Maybe a wedding: A young woman in a white dress with a silver tinsel tiara (Target: $3.99) was sitting in the guest of honor spot, so periodically – in between listening to C talk about how different life was in the picturesque and scenic Hudson Valley even a brief 20 years ago -- I got to project myself into a group of people for whom life was really different.

Tributes have begun rolling in this morning.

What can I say?

I like getting presents.

In my own defense, I also like giving presents.

I suppose I could eliminate the middleman and just buy my own presents. But then I’d never own the complete Original Broadway Cast recording of Hamilton (thank you, RTT!) because it’s not something I would ever think of buying for myself.


June is still stalled in New York City circa 1923 waiting to tell Henry Miller that (A) she’s Jewish and (B) her father’s dead, but I am angstless about that this morning becawse it’s really such a sunny, beautiful day.
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I’m watching The Real Housewives of Miami, the most Fellini-like of The Real Housewife franchises ‘cause I’m just a ‘ho for reality TV.

It is just the most bizarre thing evah. Doesn’t get very high ratings, so my fantasy of millions of Americans eating bread bought by food stamps and watching the famewhore circus is not particularly apt. Still. I can’t help thinking programming like The Real Housewives represents the true decline of the United States.

I also think whoever thought up The Real Housewives franchise must have been a fan of the Sims. That opening shot of the Housewives posing together holding golden apples (obscure cultural reference – The Judgement of Paris – alert!) – is straight out of the Sims.

Dawns on me that one other sea change I’ve lived through – far less pervasive than the ubiquity of computers, the Internet and smartphones, true – is the cultural acceptance of plastic surgery.

I’m an old hippie so cosmetic surgery has always seemed… wrong to me. In the same way that tattoos and body piercings seem wrong to me. (Okay. Well. Not pierced ears.) Intellectually, I’m fine with them. It’s your body – do what you want with it.

And, of course, from an economic point of view, the whole stylist and beauty industry is just another service industry designed to take up the slack left by the disappearance of a manufacturing job base.

I always wonder how hypocritical I’m being here, too. I mean – if I had the $$$, would I do cosmetic surgery? I’d be lying if I said the loss of my looks didn’t bother me. I was so beautiful for so long. But if I had a facelift, I wouldn’t look like a 35 year old woman again. I’d look like a 62 year old woman who'd had a facelift.

Thing is, you can always tell if you know how to look. Facelifts give your countenance that scleroderma look; boob jobs always build up scar tissue so that your cleavage is unnaturally wide.

Of course, you can always not look. But alas! that's never an option for me.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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