The only things that are important in life are the things you remember.
– Jean Renoir, as recalled by James Salter, in the New Yorker.
- Apartamento, a magazine out of Spain, but written in English, is one of my favorite magazines. The latest issue just arrived in the mail today and I am happily listening to YLE and leafing through it.
- I was in NY last week for an Etsy board meeting — I love that company! — and a bunch of other meetings.
- There is some amazing digital media at The New York Public Library, which I got to see too (after a lovely lunch at Szechuan Gourmet), and some beautiful maps. Hopefully some of the amazingness will be coming to Findery soon.
- I’m sure there was some amazing art at the Frieze Art Fair, but I wasn’t able to find it. However, found some friends there, which was even better. And the boat to and from was lovely.
- Mookie is an exceptional Westie that lives in the West Village. We walked him.
- The wall at Le Philosophe is covered with French philosophers, and supposedly, if you are able to name all of them, they will pay for your meal. I was only able to identify Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Descartes and, I think, Foucault. And, I think, Luce Irigaray. The food was amazing, and I was happy to pay for it. Or, rather, to have it paid for on my behalf. Duck, hear? And the snails to start, which were as unlike any snails I’d had before as it was possible to be. Delicious.
- Later, after a close call, we headed to Marie’s Crisis Cafe, a singalong piano bar specializing in show tunes. We managed some Summer Lovin, from Grease, and Let The Sun Shine In, from Aquarius, while managing our Tom Collinses.
What I fault newspapers for is that day after day they draw our attention to insignificant things whereas only three or four times in our lives do we read a book in which there is something really essential. Since we tear the band off the newspaper so feverishly every morning, they ought to change things and put into the paper, oh, I don’t know, perhaps…Pascal’s Pensees! …and then, in a gilt-edged volume that we open only once in ten years…we would read that the Queen if Greece has gone to Cannes or that the Princesses de Leon has given a costume ball. This way the proper proportions would be te established.
- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Poetry! Just this week I’ve met two other poetry fans. It makes me happy to meet other poetry fans. Especially when they recommend poets I’m not familiar with. One of them recommended Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems this week, and sent this lovely poem:
Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
Another new friend recommended H.D. to me. I’ve never read her poetry, but found Eurydice, which is a dark and powerful poem about hell. It concludes:
At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;
and my spirit with its loss
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;
before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.
A couple weeks ago, I was honored with an award from the NCWIT. the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Unfortunately, I had a bad flu and couldn’t accept the award in person. So my dear friend and colleague Heather Champ went down to accept it for me, and deliver my speech. This is that speech.
By clock and inch, by place and measure, by drive, dream and design, we’ve come here to California and to the keyboards of our computers, to make the future.
Our successes have been so great and so rapid that within 20 years we’ve gotten a third of the world’s population online, shrunk our computers to the size of our hands, and connected each to each. The magic, the generosity of spirit, the kindness, the art and the song that we’ve put into this technology and into this medium are in evidence all around us, every day.
But with all the glories, many defeats. We make our human mistakes. Connected to so many, we are intimate with fewer and fewer. We squander our days in amusements. Instead of truth, triviality. We are exhorted to sate the urges of the millions, their sloth, greed, pride or lust. We are told that this is what will make us a success. This is a deadly cynicism, which we must fight.
Because the internet is a medium, it doesn’t care whether it transmits love or hate. It is what we build and who we are that make it what it is. We can build things that diminish our humanity or build things that bring us to human flourishing.
There is great work to be done, and the women will lead us. So I say: Astonish us with your genius. Inspire us with your creation. Work with one another. Endure the tribulations. Dream, struggle, create, prevail. Be daring. Be brave. Be loving. Be compassionate. Be strong. Be brilliant. Be beautiful.
“We must love life before loving its meaning. We must love life, and some meaning may grow from that love. But “if love of life disappears, no meaning can console us.”
– From Dostoevsky (second hand, from Kathleen Dean Moore. Can’t find the original source, please let me know if you know it!)
Soon after the Lance Armstrong doping scandals emerged last year, I was talking to friends about the prevalence of doping, and my shock. “How could it be true?” I asked. And my friends said, “Are you being willfully naïve? Doping isn’t optional, it is required! they informed me. Riders were kicked off teams for NOT doping. And it’s not just biking…” and a lecture on professional sports, and how they work, ensued. You can do a blood transfusion, and train while on drugs, then do another transfusion before the testing to clean up your blood. There are new, undetectable drugs.
Next they told me you could take Adderall and improve not only your basic school performance, but also your S.A.T. scores. Kids were opting out of studying, and the months-long, grueling Kaplan SAT prep courses and popping pills instead. One girl, now at an Ivy League college said:
“Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”
Madeleine estimated that one-third of her classmates at her small school, most of whom she knew well, used stimulants without a prescription to boost their scholastic performance. Many students across the United States made similar estimates for their schools, all of them emphasizing that the drugs were used not to get high, but mostly by conscientious students to work harder and meet ever-rising academic expectations.”
“Steroids are now in the middle schools,” one of my interloctors said grimly. And even before middle school, parents are “redshirting” — putting 6-year-old kids in kindergarten to give them an advantage — they’ll be bigger, stronger, and more advanced than their peers, an advantage that appears to follow them throughout their lives, especially in sports.
If there is a national, secular religion in the United States it is the belief that America is the Land of Opportunity, that we are a Meritocracy, that any kid, no matter who they are, or where they come from, can work hard and move up in the world. That their effort matters. “You too can be the President,” every American kid is told. But one unintended consequence of this belief, it is that, as a result of our being a meritocracy, if you have not succeeded, you are of lesser merit. It is shameful to be a failure in this country. Everything from doping to boob jobs speaks to the struggle to gain an advantage in a competitive world. But this is a rational response to a society where the winner takes all.
So how do we keep the dream alive? How do we make it a dream worth striving for? I am reminded of one of my most retweeted tweets: “Avoid a life of chasing prizes not worth winning.” You’ve been such amazing commenters, I’d love to hear your ideas.