contradiction is the cellular structure of life



Sarah and Matthew are on the morning train to Chicago. They will spend the day there and then hop a plane for England. They are exhausted. I hope their trip home is ok for them. It was fun having everyone around. I am blessed that my daughters’ significant others are people I find fun and interesting to talk to. I hope I managed not to be too obnoxious in my enthusiasm in return. Families are fun.

Today I return to my duties as a ballet accompanist. Two classes and a staff meeting seem doable. I am a bit tired but feel up to it. I tried to rest some yesterday and I did get my exercise in.

I read a couple of essays by Donald Hall yesterday in his book, Essays After Eighty.

In the first one, “Out the Window,” he recounts an incident to illustrate how condescending people can be to the elderly.

When kindness to the old is condescending, it is aware of itself as benignity while it asserts its power. Sometimes the reaction to the elderly becomes farce. I go to Washington to receive the National Medal of Arts and arrive two days early to look at paintings. At the National Gallery of Art, Linda pushes me in a wheelchair from painting to painting. We stop by a Henry Moore carving. A museum guard, a man in his sixties with a small pepper-and-salt mustache, approaches us and helpfully tells us the name of the sculptor. I wrote a book about Moore and knew him well.

Linda and I separately think of mentioning my connection but instantly suppress the notion—egotistic, and maybe embarrassing to the guard. A couple of hours later, we emerge from the cafeteria and see the same man, who asks Linda if she enjoyed her lunch. Then he bends over to address me, wags his finger, smiles a grotesque smile, and raises his voice to ask, “Did we have a nice din-din?”

from “Out of the Window” in Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall

in the next essay, the title essay of the book, Hall thanks the guard for helping him finish the essay, “Out of the Window.” He is a manic rewriter and felt that this essay as he was working on it failed to “marry heaven and hell,” failed his own notion that “Contradiction is the cellular structure of life.” The essay was incomplete because it “required contrast, required something nasty or ridiculous.”

“Happily I found it” he writes, “When ‘Out the Window’ appeared in print a hundred letters arrived. Terry Gross interviewed me for Fresh Air. Almost everyone paid as much attention to a goon’s baby talk as to the landscape. I thank a museum guard at the National Gallery.”

While I was out yesterday by myself, I stopped by the library to browse. I seem to be returning to this activity after abandoning it for a few years due to the extreme ease with which I can find books online.

I had in mind finding a copy of Newton’s Principia.  It was mentioned in this little essay I linked to yesterday.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read 

deGrasse recommends reading Newton’s System of the World not his entire Principia. I found a beautiful U of California Press edition of both bound together.


It put me in the mood to browse more. So I began poking around. A newer book with a nearby call number to the Newton was The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures by Malba Tahan.

Originally written in Portuguese and published in 1949, it’s a sort of mathematical Arabian Nights. I thought it looked interesting. I mentioned it to Eileen as well since she’s a math lady.

I picked up some other books just to browse through at home.

I think I may have thumbed through the Harold Bloom title before. Then I looked at new poetry books.

I have already read several of these poems. I like Simic. I own one volume of his poetry, A Wedding in Hell.

I thought I recognized the poet, Devin Johnston who wrote the above volume, Far-Fetched. I was thinking of another poet.

I recognize Padgett but don’t seem to own anything by him.

I have been going to libraries and picking out new books of poetry to read since the late sixties. I open a book and read a few lines. If they grab me, I check the book out for further reading.

That’s what I did yesterday.

Thank goodness for libraries.




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