Friday, June 22, 2012


Saturday-Tuesday, June 16-19, 2012—Long Beach, CA

A very deliberate morning. I didn’t wake up until about 10:15 (which is actually a bit earlier that I’ve been getting up recently—I’ve gotten into the habit of staying up until three or four in the morning over the last few weeks). Since then I’ve been lying in bed reading, City of Fortune, a popular history of the Venetian empire, by Roger Crowley, which is turning out to be quite good (I fairly recently read his book on Lepanto and the Battle of Malta, which was also well done). This morning will set a nice tone for the rest of my day, which should be low-key to say the least. I plan on working out, studying Greek, and cleaning the house bit. I also hope to get a little work in on more long-term projects, such as my revamping of BSP. I’m feeling a little unfocused lately, like my post-school unwinding has turned into something more approaching laziness. I also feel, though, that I’m starting to get a bit of a handle on this. Slowly, but surely I’m chipping away at things I need to do, want to do in this “free” time. I know too that I should appreciate that I have to time to fall into a bit of sloth—it won’t be that long until things start getting busy again, and not always in a good sense.

I’ve noticed that when I start getting “lazy” it’s because I’m actually in a place where I’m not ready to move to a next stage in life: I can’t commit my energies in any one direction because I don’t know exactly what I should be doing. Losing this main focus, it becomes harder to deal with the little things I need to get done. What’s the point of vacuuming the house when the universe lacks a center and therefore is largely without meaning? (OK, that’s way over the top, but the point is still valid.) Whatever else that can be said about my current state, I’m definitely in transition, as a person, as a writer. I just have to accept that this is a good thing, something I’ve been working towards …

Three days later. Something (I don’t remember what) caused me to stop the above passage and ‘m only now getting back to it. Looking back at what I wrote I’ve already come to slightly different conclusions. Though only slightly different, I think they are important and throw some light on where I’m at at the moment.

In the last few days I’ve felt a relatively small but very noticeable uptick in my energy level. Since I’ve been working out steadily my body is also feeling much more limber and responsive. I’m beginning to see that a lot of the issues I’ve been dealing with over the last several years, both the physical and emotional/mental ones, tie heavily into the fact that I’ve simply been completely exhausted for a very long time. Taking a look back at my life, I’m beginning to see the details of why this is. What’s interesting/depressing is that the only reason I haven’t seen this is that I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the time to do the most basic self-upkeep for a very long time; it’s a wonder that I haven’t completely cracked up.

Let me catalogue these times a bit.

Since 2005 I have completed four novels and a book of poetry (within these books there has also been a highly significant artistic shift, which took a ton of effort for me to accomplish). I’ve also created a publishing company, which, at times, has involved a great deal of effort. Added to all this, I’ve transitioned into teaching and have had to learn to do this on the run, while mostly teaching outside of my areas of expertise, which has been rewarding, but also labor intensive; I’ve actually never worked so hard on anything in my life (with the exception of my first two novels). While doing this, since early 2009, I have had to deal with the constant stress of trying to live in Southern California without a car, which has entailed ridiculously long and dangerous scooter commutes that have taken their toll on me mentally, both in regards to the stress of the rides themselves, but also because their length gives me less time to do the other things I need to do. Added to all this has been a series of sinus, digestive, anxiety problems that have really dragged me down, swiped more of my energy. Taken together, all of this constitutes by far the busiest and most difficult time of my life (even busier and crazier than when I was in graduate school and working full time, which just about killed me).

Now that I’ve finally put the brakes on things (to a point), I feel as if I’ve been caught up in some massive wave that’s just now broken (or maybe I’ve just now noticed tha it’s broken). While there have been many rewards, the price of me riding (or at least getting pushed along) by this wave has been high, in regards to my health and especially my relationships with other people: many of these have collapsed and most have been seriously neglected. The biggest price has come in regards to my relationship to myself. Since 2005 I’ve been a writing and teaching machine—but not really much of a person. The next phase of my life, I’m beginning to see, will be dominated by my trying to figure out how to again be a person, someone who’s life is full and rewarding in more than just a work sense. I can be an artistic and academic draft animal no longer.

A bit of a side note. I can now see why I was having so many anxiety issues last summer in Greece. While that trip was a vacation in many ways, it was also a challenge to myself: I was using it to look outside my current life, to find something better and more real. The problem was that I wasn’t quite ready for that. Or at the very least I bit off far too much too fast. In retrospect, I should have done what I’m doing this summer—unwinding and taking stock at home—and gone to Greece this summer, when I would have been in a much better place. The reason I was flipping out there was because I was flipping out in general. Suddenly being dumped in a new cultural situation far from home added a whole new layer of stress to my life. My anxiety wasn’t so much a problem as it was a healthy warning sign—get your act together, Rob—your health, your happiness depends on it.

Day-to-day life? Glorious relaxation. The amazing realization that there’s such a thing as relaxation and perhaps I can someday learn how do it well myself. Reading. Finishing the Venetian history I started a few days ago. Read A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood, which was a bit disappointing. An angry little book, depressing, with a cop-out ending, In my opinion. It’s well written, though. It also features some nice passages on Southern California. I might have started a big reading project. A few days ago I started rereading Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I read this and the Within a Budding Grove, the second volume, years ago and they had a big impact on me. I got bogged down in volume three, though, (maybe I just didn’t have the time at the time) and abandoned the work. This summer is the perfect situation to revive my Proust quest. So far I’m really enjoying Swann's Way, seeing things in it I couldn’t before. Reading Proust, I’m seeing, is a perfect counterpoint to the way I have been living my life these last years. Proust is about nothing if not slowing down and tasting life, reveling in our moments, even the seemingly smallest ones. It will be interesting to see how far I get into his work this time.

Been working on BSP too, getting the books in e-book form. I’ve also almost got the print edition of Edgewater finalized; I’m now looking to have it officially out sometime in mid-July (I might get out an e-book version slightly before that.

Thinking a lot still about what my next writing project should be. Non-fiction seems more and more like what I should be doing. I’ve been interested in writing about art and artists. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head in this area I still haven’t quite nailed down.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No Greece, In Search of Relaxation, Marguerite Duras

Tuesday, June 5-6, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Lots of stuff going on. I’ve officially shelved the Greece trip. Or more accurately, I’m postponing it until next summer. I’ve done this for two main reasons. Money is the first one. I simply don’t have enough to take the kind of trip I want. The second reason is more complicated. I’m coming to understand that I don’t just want to take vacations to Greece. As I was telling my friend Katie in an email today, I want to have a deeper relationship with the place than that; I’m pretty sure that sooner rather than later I want to live there, at least part time. This involves a reorientation of how I get back there. I need to start laying the groundwork for this more serious venture on this side of the Atlantic. Admittedly I’m not sure what this groundwork is. I know, though, that getting my life together as a writer is a priority (dealing with getting the Backwaters novels published is a big part of this). I also need to get serious about learning Greek. I got a really good start on this but by last January I was so crushed by school that my studies fell by the wayside. I’ve started up again, though, and I’m hoping to have a productive Greeky summer.

Another reason I’ve postponed the trip is simple exhaustion. Lately I’ve been depressed about my inability to write, to have much passion for writing. I’m now seeing that I need a fallow period, that my inability to write stems partially from the fact that I’m completely exhausted and burned out on the lifestyle I’ve been leading. The truth is, I’m not finding much joy in most of the things I do; I’ve been busting my butt teaching and have written two novels and part of book of poetry over the last five years—and all this has taken a lot out of me. I need other things in my life. I’ve kind of forgotten how to have fun. I need to simply relax and try and relearn (or maybe learn for the first time) a few basic things about living. I need more friends. I need more time for contemplation. I need to step back a bit and simply take in the things around me. I need a big break in regards to just about everything.

I had a really weird dream the other night that Steve E. suggested I write down before I forget it. I was teaching at some college, not either of the ones I’m at now; it was more a university than a community college. It had a vaguely east-coast feel; at least some of the buildings were made out of bricks and there was ivy growing up parts of them. I was in a class giving a final. I remember thinking even during the dream that the final seemed kind of like a scam, like it was too easy to really be a final. After the test I went back to my apartment, which was in a building on the campus, not too far from where I’d just given the final. I was only in my apartment, though, for a few minutes before I heard something going on outside. I looked out a window and saw a bunch of cops pouring into one of the bigger buildings on the campus; somehow I knew they were there to make mass arrests of the students. Before I could really take too much of this in, though, I heard someone banging on my door. It was a single cop, a Latino guy with a small mustache, who had come to take me away.

He took me into a building and then into what looked like a giant men’s room. Once in there he started asking me all sorts of questions about supposedly subversive activity on my part (I don’t remember the specifics on this, but I do remember that he was pretty vague in the dream so there might not be all that much in the way of specifics to remember). At some point I asked for a lawyer. The cop then pulled a blonde guy who looked straight out of 1976—feathered middle-length hair, big-collared shirt, etc.— out of a bathroom stall. Apparently he’d been in there banging some girl. At this point there were suddenly more people there. A judge? Other cops? I’m not sure now. I do remember that I was being peppered with questions at this point that I didn’t understand; I wasn’t sure what I was being accused of. Around this time a female student was brought in as a witness against me; she wasn’t anyone I recognized. I remember she was just beginning her testimony when my the alarm on my clock-radio went off. I woke up in a truly foul mood, much of which followed me well into the day.

 Been reading Marguerite Duras recently. I’ve never read her before, though I’ve been interested in checking her out for a while. A few days ago I blew thru a short novel of hers called Black Hair, Blue Eyes. It’s a pretty awful book. Very elliptical, minimalist, experimental in a lot of bad ways. Some of it moves well into self-parody, of herself (I can tell this even without having read any other of her books—her methods and perspectives are easily sussed out), post-war French literature, and French culture as a whole. There were aspects of it, though, that interested me, that made me want to read something else by her. Right now I’m about a third of the way thru her later novel called The North Chinese Lover. So far it’s a much better work: it does all the same things as Black Hair, Blues Eyes, but in this case her technique really propels and elucidates the story (in Black Hair, Blue Eyes it kind of was the story). With this book I can see why she’s so popular and highly regarded.

I haven’t felt much of a need to write in this diary recently. I’m realizing this is partially because I’ve been using it as a way to vent about teaching, which is now done for the summer. However much I end up writing here this summer I can now see that I have a chance to do some new things with these pages, some more positive things. Complaining to flowering (the flowering of something other than my complaining). I’m looking forward to this, to relaxing into something more fun.