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We were talking about what books to read, weren't we? Part of a conversation of having only so much time to live, the finiteness of mortality--which in the past had only been a hazy kind of concept to us--now taking more definite shape, and decisions about how to use our time from this point forward becoming more important than ever...

I said, Seneca and wrote his name down on a piece of paper.

You'd never heard of him.

Seneca was exiled by Nero for a trifling offense to the state and wrote an essay on stoicism, I said.

You seemed mildly interested, not interested enough to ask me the name of anything Seneca wrote but interested enough to continue listening to me, and so I continued talking.

Don Quixote, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy...I wrote these titles on the same piece of paper.

It was very late, we'd had a few drinks.

I've never read Tolstoy, you said.

Anna Karenina, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Trollope, Huck Finn, As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck East of Eden...I couldn't write fast enough.


Fake fake news 

The New York Times comes in a blue plastic wrapper and is delivered to my home every morning. The wrapper is itself covered with words--disclaimers and warnings for the most part--among them this:

!Caution! This is not a toy. Keep this bag away from babies and small children for whom it poses a suffocation risk.

Reading these words this morning I thought, yes, the news is not a toy to serious people, though babies and small children might find it so, and consequently perish while inhaling it.


A walk in Los Angeles

I find LA a great place to walk, perhaps since no one else is walking, and so I walked last night along Washington Blvd. from Sawtelle west to Abbot Kinney and back.

It was a lovelyl, strange walk, loud with the sound of fast automobiles coming toward me and leaving me behind. There were whole stretches of time when I felt like I was walking beside a river made of plastic, metal and halogen light instead of water.

I counted eight other walkers during a journey, I'm guessing, of 4 or 5 miles, and three bicyclists, two of them riding without front or rear lights. 

Washington Blvd. is such a creative pastiche of auto parts stores, storage-unit facilities, restaurants, architect offices, a .99 Cent outlet and at least three donut shops. At The Kinney, a newish-looking hotel in Venice, which appears to be a fairly new fabricated update of a 1950's apartment building, gussied up and re-named (anytime you can call something THE you have a tremendous marketing advantage, at least cosmetically) I turned around and walked east on the other side of the street.

I found a small restaurant with comfort food--Wood--sat down, ordered spaghetti bolognese and a glass of red wine. I read the new New Yorker, the one with the story about Nicholas Maduro, the President of Venezuela, and looked at the cartoons. 

Sitting in the restaurant, it felt like I'd finally found what I'd been searching for, whether I'd known it or not--complete invisibility. I enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with myself, though I missed my wife who'd returned to San Francisco and who I'll be very happy to see the day after tomorrow.

This morning I woke up happy in Mar Vista, scene of my late night walk, still alone but no longer invisible, writing this note on my iPhone:

Is the job of government to help make its citizens feel bigger than than they really are, or smaller, or would its citizens be better served by feeling almost nothing about their government at all?


Anna Maria Maiolino at MOCA (LA)

Real art isn't just beautiful, it's beautiful because it's real. Looking at real art is like talking to someone you love, knowing you don't have to say a thing to be loved, knowing that you both can be quiet for hours, neither of you having to say a thing since each of you know that being in one another's presence is not only enough, it's somehow more than enough, it's as much as you'll ever get in this world.

Everything real and right about art is at work in the art of Anna Maria Maiolino, an Italian-born (1942) woman who made her life in Brazil, whose retrospective at MOCA closes the last day of 2017, December 31.  Her art is everything art hopes to be--serious, funny, obvious enough to be socially and politicially provocative and insecure enough to be vulnerable. Maiolino composes in virtually every medium--painting, drawing, ceramics, video, book-making--and every conceivable (conceivable at least to me) movement, from the representation-ness of european arte povera to Duchampian conceptualism, to sort of an anti-magical realism/rain-forest Feminism, not merely as investigations of each but as fresh, startling art that looks and feels like it was made just yesterday or the day after tomorrow. I've never seen anything like Maiolino's art.

On the wall in the first gallery of her exhibit at MOCA is a small piece, Buracao Preto (Black Hole, 1974). She's managed to co-opt/mingle/create a conversation with three male giants of contemporary art: the corners and edges are Mondrian; the rectangle in the center of the piece, a construction made of paper behind which a thin wire has been suspended from one side to the other, is Joseph Cornell; the paper, slashed here and there, a Lucio Fontana move. I can't remember ever seeing art so fresh and so grounded in art history, or in the social/political/cultural moments of its time, 1974.

I fold my arms in the presence of real art while I walk around looking at it. It seems an appropriate gesture. After seeing the Maiolino show I walked through MOCA's permanent collection, finally sitting down in a room full of Rothko's, spending some quiet time with Rothko's paintings, in the state of peaceful restlessness and restless peace that real art always puts me in.


Thackeray's Vanity Fair 

In the first chapter of Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp throws Dr. Johnson's "Dixonary'--a gift from Miss Jemima--out of the coach on which she's traveling away from Miss Pinkerton's awful school, Chiswick Mall:

But, lo! and just as the coach drove off, Miss Sharp flung the book back into the garden.

This almost caused Jemima to faint with terror. 'Well, I never,'--said she...

Someone I love told me that if I read Vanity Fair there would be times when I couldn't stop laughing. "I don't know that I'd read it again," she said, "but I'm glad I read it when I was young." 

I began reading Thackeray's masterwork early this morning--5 a.m.--and didn't put it down until dawn, 7:02 a.m. when the light was just starting to make its prison escape. Then I closed the book up by putting it down, needing to get on with my own life.