Autumn Varia

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I’ve been a very bad blogger lately. But for good reason! My new novel is coming along at a good clip, and I don’t want to interrupt my progress for anything.

Some stuff I’ve been meaning to blog about:

Season 3 of Black Mirror is typically brilliant, if a little hit-or-miss like the other seasons. Every episode is high-concept. I was especially fond of the episode “Shut Up and Dance,” which has a great momentum to it. And when you get to the harrowing end, it feels both inevitable and surprising–Flannery O’Connor’s criteria for a great plot/ending.

Speaking of a dark future, Donald Trump got elected this week.


Like most of the country, I’ve been having mild panic attacks for days. How could this have happened? If Trump the president turns out to be anything like Trump the candidate, we’ve got all sorts of human-level horrors in store, but the one that worries me most is the planet-scale one. This is a guy who believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I can only hope the international community can find some way of persuading him to abide by the Paris accord. Trump will likely undo all kinds of progress, but people are resilient and a new and better day will dawn. But unless engineers can deliver us a Hail Mary soon, no such hope exists for the planet. We’d do well to get this one right. I have so much to say about this I could literally make a full-time job of it, but I’ve already got a job, so I’ll stop myself.

Let me add this, though. Last week Mayumi and I took the kids to Washington D.C. We went to the International Spy Museum, which was interesting, though almost entirely a timepiece. Only the last room addressed “cyber” espionage, which is of course the whole kit and caboodle now. It was neat seeing all the James-Bond type cufflink cameras and pencil guns and such. I wonder if I’ll ever write a spy novel? Come to think of it, I guess I just did in a way, but more about that another day. After the spy museum we visited the White House, and there was this wall with all the presidents’ faces on it. That Trump’s face is going to be on there with Abraham Lincoln’s and FDR’s and Obama’s just seems laughable. How far we’ve fallen.


The second day we visited the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art East Building, which houses the modern and contemporary art. It’s a modest collection in size, and all the usual suspects are there: Picasso, Matisse, Magritte, the pop artists, Cy Twombly. I loved it–it made me feel like a kid. By comparison, the National Museum of the American Indian was just so-so. Really neat architecture, and fascinating and important content of course, but there’s only so much to look at.

museum-2(We do, though.)


Speaking of feeling like a kid, I’ve been having these intimations of beauty lately. At the museum, yes, but also when I sit in a beach chair watching my kids play soccer and listening to music with my earbuds. Or when I come across a startling phrase in Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, the 1300-page, Joycean magnum opus I’m reading. Now that I think of it, it may have something to do with the weather. I haven’t experienced a proper autumn in ten years and I won’t next year either so I’m savoring every brisk, golden second. And of course this is where I was a kid, so it makes sense that I’d be transported.

In case it’s not obvious I’m just rambling here.

Random thought I had while driving today: maybe the evolutionary logic behind why young couples tend to argue is because they want to test each other’s aptitude for parenting. I could explain that at some length, but it’s getting late.

A few other things I’ve been meaning to mention:

Parks: we’ve visited so many of them in various places this year and I keep thinking of them as metaphors–for my writing and my teaching both. The best teaching probably happens when kids don’t even know they’re learning. They think they’re just having fun. But some of the stuff kids do on playgrounds is pretty arduous. We went to one playground in Japan that was like a Ninja Warrior obstacle course. So fun for the kids, but also: so much work! There’s a lesson in that for sure.

haverford-parkslidewarped-wallziplinechesnut-hill-playgroundscenic-playgroundthoreau thoreau-2


Saxby’s Coffee: this is a coffee shop near Haverford College that I love to work at. Why? It’s got various rooms one can sit in, two on the first floor, one on the second, and seating outside on the porch too. And there’s a coziness to the place. It has a hearth-like, lived-in feeling to it. And there are bookcases filled with books, which are my favorite things.


I have a reading coming up in the Books-A-Million in the mall I was a rat at as a kid. For three hours. Never read in a mall before. Or for three hours. Should be fun.

My six-year-old son ran three miles with me the other day without stopping in preparation for the Turkey Trot.

I taught my daughter how to bunnyhop on her bike yesterday. I used to be a pretty serious BMXer. I’ve fixed up my old bike and ride with the kids. I still do jumps, but I’m more cautious than I used to be. I fear falling will hurt more than it used to. I’m quite sure I don’t heal as quickly.


I read to my son’s first-grade class at the Springfield Literacy Center on Friday. I’d heard that they learned the word “metacognition” last week, so I taught them the word “metafiction” to complement it and read one of my son’s favorites, Do Not Open This Book, as an example. Then I read the very last in a series my son loves, Elephant and Piggie. This book, The Thank You Book, is the author’s farewell to the series and all its characters, so it has a metafictional dimension as well and was a timely choice for Thanksgiving (It was either that or Blood Meridian). After reading the two books, I introduced them to Mad Libs and we did one. They laughed riotously when I read back their collaborative story. And is was pretty tame compared to what they’ll be writing a few years from now. I love lil’uns. Hardly any duplicity in ’em. At the end of the school day, many of the kids said “mystery reader” was their “high point of the day.” I guess it was mine too.

The left side of my left foot is numb. I’m not sure why. I called my doctor. She said it’s quite common. Maybe a herniated disc. No emergency. Hmm. If I die of foot-numbness, you heard it here first.

My kids may never experience the thrill of waiting in line at Tower Records on a Monday night at 12:01 a.m. to buy a newly released cd. This saddens me. More than that, I’m saddened that the Borders I used to work is now nothing except a Halloween Store for a couple of months out of the year. I can live without cheesesteaks, but Philly ought to boast more about its water ice and soft pretzels. Also, WaWa really is the best convenience store in Earth.

Trump looked scared stiff during his meeting with Obama. This humanized him for me a tad. I can only hope he won’t be half as awful as he promised.

I’ve been reading the New Yorker cover to cover, week after week.

I’m not sure democracy is the best way. I like the idea, but shouldn’t you have to have some qualifications? Maybe we could at least take a test to be sure we’re up on what our candidates actually claim to believe? Not that the popular vote means much anyway. Speaking of which, it’s time to change that. The rationalizations I hear for it are tortuous or obsolete.

We have these insects called spider-crickets in the house. If you try to kill them, they leap like six feet across the room. Earlier this year we had a honeybee infestation. I hated killing them because I know how precious they are, but come on now, the world is big, why do you have to be in here?

I met with an old English professor mine from SJU, Cecilia, for lunch. We hadn’t seen each other sixteen years, but we picked up right where we’d left off.

A few days back my high school English teacher John Brown and I went to see the new SF film Arrival (based on a masterful short story by my favorite SF story writer, Ted Chiang), but it was sold out. Instead we saw Doctor Strange, which was stunning at the level of spectacle and typical (for Marvel) at the level of story. Interesting syncretism, dual/ non-dual hodgepodge, but it works and I’d watch it again. Wednesday John and I are going out for a literary hat trick: 1) panel discussion about Bob Dylan at Kelly Writer’s House, 2) Arrival, 3) another discussion about Kerouac in translation (or something), also at Penn. I love Honolulu, but rare are days like these.

I just happen to be home in time for my twentieth high school reunion. It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Guess I had better go.

It’s 1:04 a.m. the ides of November, my thirty-eighth year. Good night.




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