Advice and Life

You see more sitting still than chasing after.

That’s Jonathan Franzen and one of his ten rules for fiction writing.  Like all infuriatingly good advice, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what it means, and there are few limits on its application.  I met a woman at a dinner party who listed for me the three fundamental human needs:  1) the need for cognitive control, 2) belonging, and 3) distinctiveness.  Now I see them everywhere.  In daily interaction.  In emails.  Add all that to a week where phrases like intellectualizing one’s emotions and radical nihilism have cropped up in conversation, and sitting still seems like a good idea.


A Last Walk in Firenze

Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace a loz cerezos.

This is what is written slightly above eye-level in a narrow street in Firenze.  Pablo Neruda.  All quiet and cobblestone in the dark winter months here, a city of trapezoids and rectangles and of course, Brunelleschi.  Warmth and spring seem distant.  I wish to do with you what Spring does to the cherry trees.

Behind the desk at the hotel, as I gather myself for the walk, is Gurpreet.  From the country.  Hair well-oiled and pulled back, but no turban.  Maybe they are not ready for that here, yet.   I look at him and want to ask, are you that guy from — ?  He looks at me the same way.  Neither of us is that guy.

In the Piazza della Signoria Cellini’s Perseus raises Medusa’s head.  In the darkness the bronze contrasts sharply with the larger, reflective, marble statues, most of large men, uncircumcised, with power contained elsewhere in their thighs, fingers, and torsos.

Near the Uffizi, a young American with a guitar, a voice like Jackson Browne, and a girlfriend.  A folk song.  Had he chosen a better location, he would not need the amplifier.  Back to a night over a decade gone, at a corner of an empty piazza in Venezia, listening to two young students of jazz, one holding an upright bass and the other a saxophone.  Such music under the same blue-black sky!

Portraits of the baby Jesus always with an aged face, often a likeness of a patron or person of prestige.  Not symbolism nor enlightenment, but man’s narcissism, characterizes the Italian Renaissance.

In a modern lounge bar called Oibo, the realization it is time to put the modern lounge bar to death.  With a flourish, the bartender (“save water, drink champagne” says his t-shirt) shows off a long, triangular bottle.  A boutique vodka.  He says it is called Pinky and that it is very strong.

It is the freshness of the pasta and the mannered, acceptable portions.  All pasta should be eaten in a room with dark wooden beams that complement the color of wine barrels.

Modernity is seeing the portals high up on the Duomo and thinking instantly of the Death Star.

This will be the last visit.  A 2009 dirge.  Listen here.

Your Pic Here

It appears that some kids are taking a break from Facebook because it takes up too much of their time.  I don’t mind FB, though there are some folks who appear to be on it constantly.  I’m intrigued less by the daily updates and more by the other changes people make, like changing their profile picture.  One friend, who is smitten by a new-found relationship, has updated with a soft-toned, warm picture.  Another’s pictures reflects his mood, particularly on Sundays after a football game.  And another changed his because his Mom (his Mom is on FB?) didn’t like his photo.  Sometimes people just don’t want to be seen.  And sometimes it’s just nice to see people.

Between Attendance and Appreciation

(this is a cross posting)

The headline “we are all writers now” caught my eye this morning. Anne Trubek makes the case that blogging, twittering, and other forms of new media communication are not cheapening our writing skills and reducing our intelligence. Instead, she says that more people are reading and writing than ever.

Hmmm… the amount of reading and writing is not really the issue though. It’s the quality and the depth of modern day writing and thought that is diminishing. People talk about “mass intelligence” as if it’s improving, but this piece by George Balgobin makes some very good points about the commodification of art and artistic knowledge — what he calls gaining intelligence through acquisition rather than knowledge.

Hey, I’m guilty of being somewhat proud of the collection of books on my shelf, but it’s worth pondering: how much do we really understand about life? Have we glorified the purchase of our degrees and knowledge rather than true appreciation of the virtues within them?