Saturday, February 23rd, 2013
8:30 a.m. I wake up listening to Eat the Airwaves, a weekly news program devoted to covering items that haven’t been covered properly, if at all, with Geov Parrish, Maria Tomchick, and Mike McCormick. They segue from their winter fund drive into a discussion of the surveillance cameras the SPD put up on the Seattle waterfront, Alki, the Fremont and Ballard bridges and the Ballard Locks, and a wireless mesh broadband network created by 160 wireless access points, without informing anyone of their decision to do this, or formulating any policy about how the cameras will be programmed to respect the privacy of residents, whether the cameras will rotate or remain in a fixed position, who will operate them, whether they will include sound, what kind of data they’ll be collecting and what happens to the data long term. This, like the drone program the SPD tried to launch without public discussion, got a lot of public outcry as soon as it was discovered. SPD backed off and promised not to activate the surveillance system until City Councilmember Nick Licata drafted some legislation governing the acquisition and use of surveillance technology.
I pour some coffee and sit down at the computer. Toby leaps up on my lap, so that I can’t reach the keyboard. I can click the mouse, so I go to France Culture, an online French radio program, and listen to a discussion of La Coeur de la jeune chinoise, by Eric Marty, on Le Carnet d’or. This is a novel written in the style of a thriller, full of death and desire and a cruel satire of contemporary French culture, a corrosive humor and flair for violence akin to Quentin Tarantino.
10:24 a.m. I give the window a hard shove with my hand (there is a dog squealing in Bhy Kracke Park) and condensation rains on my hand.
I sit down again at the computer and listen to a Carole Bassani-Adibzadheh read Traité de la Réforme de L’entendement et de la Voie Qui Mène à la Vraie Connaissance de Choses, by Baruch Spinoza, and translated par E. Saisset. Translated from what, I don’t know. What language did Spinoza originally write in?
Spinoza writes about the good that people desire. He begins by saying that the events of his life have shown him that ordinary attractions of life are vain and futile and that no objects or events are good or evil in and of themselves, but that their character comes from the way in which they’ve touched our soul. He decides to devote himself to the quest for an essential good which might be communicated to people, a good which can fill the human soul so thoroughly that after that frivolous and vain and superficial things will hold no attraction and the soul will be satisfied with that one good thing alone, that eternal and supreme sense of well-being, which he is sure exists, but is as yet undetermined.
He goes on to describe the three main attractions to people, the three main things that cause people to slip up and make life worse for themselves. These are wealth, reputation, and what the French call la volupté, which is pleasure in all its forms, sexual, intellectual, or purely sensual.
Spinoza asks himself if it is possible to attain this higher level of well-being without giving up the things he likes, without altering his habits. The answer is no. The quest for pleasure is the greatest obstacle, since after its realization, which is inherently fleeting, comes sadness, and a spiritual flaccidity. Reputation, by which I believer Spinoza means fame, is equally unsatisfying and toxic. The quest for fame coarsens the soul, because in order to obtain fame one must do whatever is necessary to please other people, to seek what they seek and avoid what they avoid.
Spinoza sounds a lot like Buddha. What he urges is a form of Buddhism. Attachment to worldly things brings sadness and coarsens the soul. Detachment brings us closer to the infinite, to eternal well-being.
At 10:45 a.m. I go write. I hear the upstairs neighbors making breakfast. Their kitchen is directly above our bedroom, where the desk I use for writing is positioned against the wall, facing west, and a window well. I put in ear plugs and remind myself to ask Roberta that we need ear plugs and Hamlet. I want the Hamlet with Sir Lawrence Olivier. It’s the only one I really like.
11:30 a.m. I’m disturbed by the sound of a power saw. I look up, out of our basement window, and see a large, heavyset man with a chestnut mustache sawing a section of hardwood. I get pissed and go put on my shoes to complain. There’s no reason for these men to be working outside on the porch, inches from our window. The work they’re doing is for Z and L, their luxury apartment, which has been under construction for over three months and has eaten up all the HOA budget, and completely frayed my nerves. I have no more patience. The patience tank is empty. Dry as a bone. I’m ready to go do some serious bitching. As soon as I get my shoes on, the noise stops. I figure maybe the guy was only sawing a bit of molding, and go back to my writing.
12:30 p.m. I go for a run. I take the recycling garbage out with me and the drywall guy sees me and apologizes about the day before. He turned the water to the building off when I was taking a shower. I could hear him in the laundry room, on the other side of our bathroom. I was so full of rage, this being the fifth time in the last several months our water has been turned off, that I almost stomp into the laundry room nude to give him a piece of my mind. Instead, I poke my head around the door and shout what the fuck! The drywall guy appears and apologizes. And now, today, he is apologizing a second time. I tell him I survived. It’s ok. I hope he didn’t have his three year old daughter with him when I put my head out the door yelling at him. It seems odd that he would bring a toddler to a work site with him. I figure he’s divorced and this is only the time he gets to see his kid, or maybe his wife has a job at Walmart or something.
I pick up a receipt for Pioneer Photos and a Snicker Egg from Bartell Drugs on the way back, and toss it into the emptied sack, which I hang on the doorknob to our apartment. I’ll bring it in on the way back. Roberta doesn’t like me wearing shoes on the carpet.
My legs are still going strong into my third mile, on 10th Avenue West. The man I frequently see out riding his bike turns round to say hello. This guy waves at me every day and I wave back and I don’t have the faintest idea who he is. He appears to be about 60. It’s hard to tell because he wears a helmet. He’s fit, I know that.
I stop at the Bank of America to deposit my check from Corinthian, a Canadian oil company drilling on my grandparent’s old farmland, to which my brother and I hold mineral rights. The bank is closed. They close at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.
After I shower and dress I hear the guy outside with his power saw again. I try to contain my rage. I phone Roberta at the bakery and ask if she wants to take the bus down to the central library with me. She isn’t sure. She was thinking of going for a run. But she calls back minutes later and says yes. I tell her to meet me at Café Vita, at the bottom of our hill.
Café Vita is crowded, as always. It’s a tiny coffeehouse and always packed. I order a raspberry Italian soda with whipped cream on top. The woman behind the counter prepares it for me and I ask for a spoon. She gives me a spoon, I drop a dollar in the tip jar, and sit at a table by the window. There is music playing. I like the music, though it’s hard to identify what’s going on with it, over the hubbub of the coffeehouse. A soft woman’s voice sings over a background of other women’s voices, all in high melody, all echoing over a flute and drum. It’s joyful and otherworldly and helps calm me down. I sip my raspberry Italian soda and imagine all the ways I could disembowel, decapitate, or dismember Z.
I pull out a copy of Le parti pris de choses which I stuck in my coat pocket on the way out. I read a piece called “Natare Piscem Doces,” in which Ponge wonders if the author can remain at the interior of the writing and deduce the reality of a reality. He compares it to being in a cave, as opposed to liberating the sculpture within a block of marble. But then he asks, is the book the chamber within a cave, or the rejected material from digging into a rock? Does writing penetrate reality, or does it create a rubble of words that are only peripherally related to the subject, automatically dissociated once they’ve been written down? Roberta appears and we leave Café Vita go catch the bus for downtown.
We find two audiobooks at the library. One is a collection of short stories by Melville, Hawthorne, Chekhov, Cather, Joyce, and Guy de Maupassant. The other is South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, & the Quest for Discovery, by Lynne Cox.
We take the number 4 bus home, eat dinner, and watch Part One of Lonesome Dove. I finish out the evening immersed in Tristes Tropique, by Claude Lévi-Strauss, in which he beautifully elaborates his preference for the mountains to the ocean, and I dream of Georgetown, in the Colorado Rockies, where I once heard a French woman sing La Vie en Rose in a cowboy saloon, hemmed by the mountains of Clear Creek Valley.