Off the Road

On 19 April, I flew to Tokyo from San Francisco, launching what proved to be more than a month of travel punctuated with stopovers in Berkeley and San Francisco. Flying to Los Angeles on 21 May for a four-day trip to the fourth city in my extended itinerary, I started to miss certain aspects of here:


The view west from my bedroom window, which takes in a bit of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the coastal range extending north past Mount Tam: I never tire of it. I look out at it when wake up and just before I go to bed. My mind often climbs those hills and remembers Stinson Beach and points south.

The barn, as I call the shed in the backyard that houses many of my books, one of my two writing desks, a pair of Corbu sofas that my oldest son gave me, and decades of memories, some set down in the diaries I've kept since student days. Most of the physical evidence of my life as an editor and writer is there, too. 

The pace of ordinary life is difficult to recapture or reinstate on the road. I make an effort to work in real conversations while traveling, by which I mean those that occur open-endedly, as opposed to the purposeful transactions that, no less valuable in their specific way, make one kind of record but not another. My mind is peculiarly holographic in capturing conversations of both kinds, but the business-related ones, like work itself, accrue through repetition. They create knowledge, perhaps, rather than memories in a deeper sense. Sometimes the colleagues become friends and the subsequent conversations shift the frame. 

Elsewhere, I've described my odd relationship with time. This was much in evidence in Tokyo, where my associative memory came in handy in resuming long-interrupted friendships (like that with Minoru Takeyama, below). The best of these reflect a mutuality in that respect. The river is never the same, Heraclitus said, yet it's helpful to start "where we left off," even if there are now two young children in the room or a new dog and a new house.

It happens here, too. Urban life rations our interactions, and then there's my own solitary nature, "alone with others," as Stephen Batchelor put it. This is held against me, from time to time, but then a doorway opens up and we remember who we are, whatever our circumstances in other quarters. Urban life is both simple and complicated, as Mick Jagger might put it. We live as tradition dictates, for the most part, yet also with the fact that life is always pulling us in other directions for which the precedents are thin. Thin as ice, some might say, but perhaps also like the screens that the court women of Sei Shonagon's era (the 1100s) set out to divide space into time just long enough to unfold a bit. 

I won't speak of tsunamis here - my mind is on rivers one can cross by foot.


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