Monday, February 28, 2011


I wish I could say that I understood The Men In My Life. When I finished reading it a couple of days ago I felt so puzzled that I immediately started reading it over again. Now I have read it twice. The writing is lively and vivid, but I am not closer than I was at the beginning to actual comprehension.

Vivian Gornick published the book in 2008. Then it was nominated in the category of criticism for a 2009 National Book Critics' Circle Award. There are nine short chapters discussing a total of twelve male writers whose books have loomed large in the reading life of Vivian Gornick. She wants to explain their importance to her by telling a little bit about the difficult personal history of each one, with the hope of showing how the outstanding literature each one made required particular experiences of depression and pain and loneliness. (True, to me this linking up of pathology and creativity sounds like kind of a dubious cliché, but that's a comparatively minor problem.)

Here are the chosen men: George Gissing, H.G. Wells, Loren Eiseley, Randall Jarrell, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Allen Ginsberg, Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Richard Ford, James Baldwin, V.S. Naipaul. They all have the depression/pain thing in common, but what they also have in common (with the significant exception of the two gay guys) is a towering level of misogyny, expressed in one of two ways. Group "A" can't conceive of women as full-fledged people at all, and Group "B" actively hates them.

Vivian Gornick originally became famous as a Seventies feminist. She must be about my own age, and consequently shared the liberationist politics that my whole generation once upon a time regarded as inevitable. True, most of us repudiated those values later – but I myself never did so, and neither did Vivian Gornick. That's why I can't imagine choosing a stable of male writers to admire who are practically all the most flagrant possible sexists – who mostly have already gone to their graves, ignorant and unrepentant. How could I face my daughter and say that these are the men I admire?

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Mabel Watson Payne is frankly proud of this new thrilling sitting-up thing. She still gets a little discreet support now and then, but everyone can see it will be only a few days until the need for hovering adult hands will completely disappear.

Early Tulips

The earliest tulips have arrived in the East Bay garden where I took on the job of feeding my daughter's roses yesterday afternoon – a cold day when snow had been predicted for San Francisco and the East Bay. I did not see any, but a friend you had flown in the day before told me patches of snow were visible in the hills. Apparently there was a lot of snow at the top of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County this week (which I would know if I paid proper attention to local news sources instead of spending all my news-time on the computer reading creative translations from the Chinese, as seen in the post below) and people were so eager to drive up and see it that there were two-hour traffic jams.

Certainly Thin

She was sitting quietly, not open body posture has been to say the relationship between her and dance. Sunshine outlines her neck to the clavicle line, Swan-like slim elegance. She certainly thin but smooth compact arm curve. She’ll support the hands between the legs, while again the other side of one leg resting on his knees, naturally, without the slightest reserved, upper body has always been customary to the straight stretch. When she replaced jeans and flat shoes, put on dress, we only see her pair of ballet dancer’s legs alone are: after years of jumping, stretching, pain endured numerous injuries, creating a stunning beauty legs, is almost solidified form of tenacity and strength.
She was not more so, with bright eyes are shares not fade in the childish, do not laugh when the mouth is always slightly under the sip, there is a sense of determination – we can almost be a ballet dancer with imagination to guess the experience of growing through the difficult, not to mention she is Tan Yuan Yuan, one of the world’s top ballet dancers, ballet let the age of 15 shot out of the Queen Ulanova, 21, became the chief actor in the world-class dance company.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sitting-Up Polaroids

Polaroid film has been extinct since 2009, but so far I have been able to find backstock online to keep my daughter's daily Polaroid project functioning. It is a sort of race with Mabel's growing-up, as she gets bigger and Polaroid film gets scarcer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Destinations in Rome

When Henry James first went on his own to Rome in the 1860s and contemplated the Pantheon, this is more or less the way he saw it, with a couple of carriages drawn up out front to accommodate parties of lady visitors.

Thank God for the Internet, I say, because otherwise it would be all too easy for a romantic-minded American to imagine things can't have changed all that much.

Of course even in the olden days, the prettified Rome of the tourist paintings responded to the market by denying the existence of beggars and pickpockets – and very much denying the existence of the tourists themselves.

We will be staying on the third floor of the building that runs along the right-hand side the staircase below. It was built in the early 19th century as rental flats for long-term English visitors. Keats died there, and a museum to his memory is housed on the lower floors. From here it will not be at all too far to walk to the Pantheon McDonald's.

Or perhaps to walk to one of these other potential alternative destinations.

The Mabel

When I visited Mabel Watson Payne and her father the other day and took my share in the pea eating excitement, I also took a lot of pictures, as usual. But (as will happen from time to time) they turned out to be almost entirely inadequate for the job of even beginning to convey this child's overwhelming charm and cleverness and beauty. In the end, I did salvage the one you see here. And I will (with joy) keep trying.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Caravaggio in Rome

Depending on which experts you believe, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 paintings by Caravaggio still in Rome – where most were originally created between about 1590 and 1610.

Today – with the Rome trip drawing close – I was mapping out Caravaggios in four Roman churches and six museums, plus a palace or two. These are a few of the most exciting potentialities.