September 1, 2014.
Japanese curry with carrot, purple potato, lotus root, broccoli, Asian cabbage and hard boiled egg.
September 1, 2014.
Japanese curry with carrot, purple potato, lotus root, broccoli, Asian cabbage and hard boiled egg.
But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.
Whether or not he ends up in the top ten and a name anybody will know, Michael Joyce will remain a paradox. The restrictions on his life have been, in my opinion, grotesque; and in certain ways Joyce himself is a grotesque. But the radical compression of his attention and sense of himself have allowed him to become a transcendent practitioner of an art — something few of us get to be. They’ve allowed him to visit and test parts of his psychic reserves most of us do not even know for sure we have (courage, playing with violent nausea, not choking, et cetera).
Joyce is, in other words, a complete man, though in a grotesquely limited way. But he wants more. He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He wants this and will pay to have it — to pursue it, let it define him — and will pay up with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant a long time ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.
C-Mine, 51n4e. Museum converted from former coal mine in Winterslag, Belgium.
"You’re All The World To Me," Royal Wedding (1951)
Magic of film.
Tips from a comedian and a journalist on the art of going from small talk to big ideas. Try these out at the next summer wedding reception.
Ask for stories, not answers
One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.
Instead of …
“How are you?”
“How was your day?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“What line of work are you in?”
“What’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”
“Would you like some wine?”
“How long have you been living here?”
“What’s your story?”
“What did you do today?”
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“How’d you end up in your line of work?”
“What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
“What was the best part of your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
“What does this house remind you of?”
“If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”
Conversational tip for the introverts amongst us…
“For a while now I’ve been fascinated by Jean Giono’s beautiful text, “The Man Who Planted Trees”. Besides its pacifist and ecological message, I enjoy the passages where the author seems to abandon himself to nature. I’ve been living in Paris for ten years now, while this is not exactly an urbanist hotspot, it’s difficult to imagine leaving the big city life. I find specific pleasure in seeing nature and city life adapting to one another, and reading about urbanists try to make them work together. When I was visiting Tokyo a few years ago I was astonished that my Japanese friends, who I admire as much for their esthetical sense as for their appraisal of modest beauty, had no appreciation for these small potted gardens that kept on attracting my attention. It’s true that I took these photographs as a passerby with no intention at all, but I take this practice of mine seriously and put in an effort to realise fanzines or small publications with my photographs or other people’s photographs without directly wanting to explain why, or at least without a publisher’s elaborate philosophy.”
Or take 1940s Russia, which lost some 20 million men and 7 million women to World War II. In order to replenish the population, the state instituted an aggressive pro-natalist policy to support single mothers. Mie Nakachi, a historian at Hokkaido University, in Japan, has outlined its components: mothers were given generous subsidies and often put up in special sanatoria during pregnancy and childbirth; the state day-care system expanded to cover most children from infancy; and penalties were brandished for anyone who perpetuated the stigma against conceiving out of wedlock. In 1944, a new Family Law was passed, which essentially freed men from responsibility for illegitimate children; in effect, the state took on the role of “husband.” As a result of this policy—and of the general dearth of males—men moved at will from house to house, where they were expected to do nothing and were treated like kings; a generation of children were raised without reliable fathers, and women became the “responsible” gender. This family pattern was felt for decades after the war.
Indeed, Siberia today is suffering such an acute “man shortage” (due in part to massive rates of alcoholism) that both men and women have lobbied the Russian parliament to legalize polygamy. In 2009, The Guardian cited Russian politicians’ claims that polygamy would provide husbands for “10 million lonely women.” In endorsing polygamy, these women, particularly those in remote rural areas without running water, may be less concerned with loneliness than with something more pragmatic: help with the chores. Caroline Humphrey, a Cambridge University anthropologist who has studied the region, said women supporters believed the legalization of polygamy would be a “godsend,” giving them “rights to a man’s financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits.”
Gloria Steinem in 1970s. And here we are in 2014…
Vivian Gornick, Sontag’s fellow critic and contemporary (Gornick was born just two years later), tried to puzzle out something that seems to have confused Sontag, and is genuinely confusing: the relationship between solitude and romantic love. In Gornick’s 1978 collection, Essays on Feminism, she argues that, at least for women, solitude is necessary because marriage, its apparent opposite, usually gets in the way of thinking, growth, self-knowledge. In fact marriage, per Gornick, is the original, distorting expectation imposed on a woman’s life — distorting because it has been viewed, by both men and women, as the “pivotal experience of [a woman’s] psychic development,” her crowning achievement. Gornick outlines the consequences of the idea in one long, electrifying sentence: “It is this conviction, primarily, that reduces and ultimately destroys in women that flow of psychic energy that is fed in men from birth by the anxious knowledge given them that one is alone in this world; that one is never taken care of; that life is a naked battle between fear and desire, and that fear is kept in abeyance only through the recurrent surge of desire; that desire is whetted only if it is reinforced by the capacity to experience oneself; that the capacity to experience oneself is everything.” The promise of marriage is the promise of togetherness, support, safety, and this prevents a woman from taking responsibility for her own life — and therefore ultimately from “experiencing” herself — by removing the motivation behind all important action, which is the terror of aloneness. In Sontag’s envy of those writers who knew how to be alone runs a current of precisely this motivating terror. Her fear of being too much by herself fuels her desire to join the club.
For all of her skepticism of marriage, Gornick, who married and divorced twice, didn’t exactly give up on love. In “On the Progress of Feminism” she describes a friend — not a feminist, she is quick to point out — who wearily pronounces love dead. Maybe it is love, this friend says, that is keeping us from self-realization. The proposition appalls Gornick. “No,” she protests “hotly” —we need to learn to love anew. If we can stop being “in love with the ritual of love,” its tired conventions and seductive abstractions, maybe we can achieve a “free, full-hearted, eminently proportionate way of loving.” Women aren’t the only ones who suffer in marriage, but because marriage is so “damnably central” to us, we are always the more comprehensively wounded party. And because we have more to lose, “it is incumbent on us to understand that we participate in these marriages because we have no strong sense of self with which to demand and give substantial love, it is incumbent on us to make marriages that will not curtail the free, full functioning of that self.”
Is romantic love the enemy of a necessary aloneness? Or is it only through learning to be truly alone that we become capable of romantic love? Put differently, is independence a necessary precondition for any relationship or, instead, an end in itself? In Gornick we feel this dilemma being lived but not quite framed. It would be heartening to find, in her oeuvre, a woman who’d been able to do something like what she envisioned, a woman unscathed by her romantic past, in full possession of the answers to her questions, a mature and sober literary hero. We can find a likeness of this image in her work, but so can we find something more provisional and trapped, a person battling the same impulses and limitations her whole life, winning some, losing some, never arriving definitively. In Fierce Attachments (a memoir of her relationship with her mother that is as much a memoir of her relationship to romantic love), she describes being questioned by a friend about her stoicism in the face of long singledom — “You seem never to think about it,” he says to her, meaning men, or rather being without one — and as he speaks she has a vision: “I saw myself lying on a bed in late afternoon, a man’s face buried in my neck, his hand moving slowly up my thigh over my hip …” Poor Vivian, transfixed by her internal picture, is so “stunned by loss” she can’t even speak.
So much has she believed in the necessity of being alone that she refuses, until very late, to see the toll solitude has taken. The trouble, as she dryly remarks in Approaching Eye Level, is that she is a “born ideologue.” Repeatedly trumpeted, her convictions about the necessity of independence ultimately leave behind their foundational truth. In a way, she has also mistaken her own early argument, imagining solitude itself as the goal, the necessary regulating ambition, when it was rather solitude as precondition — “the anxious knowledge … that one is alone in the world” — that she’d initially lit upon as useful. In that earlier formulation, aloneness was neither survival technique nor highest spiritual aim, it was the fact one started with, and this awareness would lead not to literal seclusion but to the communicative achievements of art and love. So long has Gornick insisted upon living alone, believing that she must “face down loneliness,” that she has failed to see that she was in fact facing nothing down: “I saw that I had not learned to live alone at all. What I had learned to do was strategize; to lie down until the pain passed, to evade, to get by. I wasn’t drowning, but I wasn’t swimming either. I was floating on my back, far from shore, waiting to be saved.”