1. Sarah wrote a lovely, somewhat bittersweet post about finally closing her Photobucket account, which touched on a lot of what I find difficult about maintaining an archive of one’s creative work online as an artist, rather than just a writer:
I’ve never been sentimental about my childhood homes, but I imagine this is how it feels to leave one. I invested a lot more emotion into these drawings and writings than I ever did any actual geography; it was a (virtual) dwelling and a social life and autobiography all rolled into one. My blog archive and my long-defunct website, cosy and reliable home bases for so long, foundational in so many different ways to my identity, will be floating out there in the deep web without their illustrations, like abandoned buildings with hollow windows; it feels like I’ve pressed a button that sent them instantaneously into ruin.
2. Earlier this week, Brendan linked to Wesley’s writing, which led me in turn to their exploration of How Websites Die (which, in turn, referenced Winnie’s writing, whose work I only found recently through strange, roundabout blogging connections—did you know I love this game?). Timely to see that there’s a group of people all wondering about how we can (or if we should) make these spaces more enduring. Are they even built for that?
3. All these things led to thinking about how I do know someone who, out of a sense of love and duty and grief and stewardship, ensures that Chloe Weil’s site remains online, even eight years after her death.
I think the web is full of these silent acts of affection, but they can be hard to see.
Jez and I talked about bonsai trees a lot tonight. He’d gone to the Pacific Bonsai Museum. We talked about creative work that becomes a conversation between a craftsperson and a living being—a conversation that will outlast its originator. A conversation across multiple generations.
The oldest tree he saw dated from 1850.
Lives stop, but life keeps going. Flesh begets flesh.
Great cathedrals were built by generations of stonemasons to whom the architect was a man who might once have greeted their grandfathers’ grandfathers. How agreeable, then, to believe in God.
To set stones on stones not for the architect but for eternity.
The Latin epitaph in one seventeenth-century cathedral translates: Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.
The words are carved in a disk of black marble set beneath the center of the dome. The disk was placed there by the architect’s son.
It’s easy to imagine the great man, but try to imagine the son who knows his father’s cathedral will be loved longer than the flesh of his flesh.
Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
I’m in a cathedral. My dad is in the cathedral. Our friends and neighbors—we’re all in the cathedral, eighteen-foot tall and wool-woven. Ostensibly we’re saints, but anyone from town would look around and just see people they knew. She lost her house in the Thomas Fire. He passed away last Christmas from pneumonia. This is the real record.
I posed for the portrait in 1998. Before Y2K, but after the release of Spiceworld. When we saw the Cathedral open its doors in 2002, I was 13 and felt so worldly compared to the child self hung high on the yellowed walls.
The truth is: she’ll outlast me.
I haven’t been back to the Cathedral since, but I think about it all the time.
It was by this making of comparisons to analyse her feelings that Taryn returned from her period of healing to who she was, what mattered to her, and what was inescapable. Her troubles had pressed on her for weeks, not just ill health caused by the demon but the Muleskinner’s slow approach and what she thought she owed him—or worried he’d think she owed him. And there were other failings: how she took her former husband’s generosity for granted, and how little kindness she seemed able to show to her father. The rest of it—her book, the festivals, her agent’s and publisher’s expectations—receded. But what had taken the place of the pressures wasn’t Taryn’s own tranquillity; it was the land itself, the Sidh, promising always to be there, always to be the same. Promising also that it would be the same Taryn who stepped out with sound knees and clear eyes from this blue lake, or stone hearth, or apple shade. Come again, be again—that was its promise, a sense of permanence Taryn hadn’t felt since she was under ten years old and only able to imagine that she would always stay at Princes Gate with her grandparents, always find the same old Monopoly set, quoits, croquet hoops and mallets, the familiar punt, the cats—only a little indifferent whenever she arrived—but all as it should be, the same, permanent. The Sidh was turning Taryn into a child again, a child who knew everything sustaining would last. It gave her back that knowledge beyond faith—what the faithful meant when they said ‘faith’.
Elizabeth Knox, The Absolute Book
I got a card at the Ojai Library last week. Walked into this building for the first time since I was a child and breathed the particular scent of spines and plastic and dust. Things were different, of course. Fewer shelves in the children’s section, no more chunky CRT monitors blinking green on black, keyboards shrouded in that satisfyingly tacky plastic skin. Keys you really had to punch to pull up the author of your choosing.
When I went looking for the books I remember devouring as a young reader, I found the same phalanx of Nancy Drew titles intact.
The Moomin novels, though, the ones I really wanted to see again, they were gone.
I keep thinking about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
I’m not usually a post-apocalyptic fiction person, but Erika recommended the book to me several years ago by saying “it’s about art at the end of the world, and the things it can and can’t do to keep us together.” That’s more than enough, it turns out, to get me in the door.
I remember how sickeningly plausible Mandel made it all feel: the Georgia Flu. The collapse of society. The various reactions of America’s citizens—denial, adaptation, fanaticism, reinvention.
But the detail that really stuck with me was that the traveling theatre troupe at the heart of the narrative attempted to stage modern plays from time to time, and instead their audiences—even 20 years after the pandemic—kept demanding Shakespeare.
“People want what was best about the world,” explains a member of the ensemble.
I’ve consumed more Shakespeare in Quarantine than I have in the last ten years. Zina and I read Macbeth aloud to each other over the course of several evenings in the early days. Then we graduated to filmed productions through the National Theatre: Twelfth Night, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra. This week I’m back at it with Hamlet and the Donmar Trilogy: The Tempest today, and (if I play my cards right) Julius Caesar and Henry IV next weekend.
I don’t know that it’s about how good the plays are (though they are very good!) or how poignant it is that Shakespeare wrote and produced so many of them in the midst of plague-induced theatre closures (though he did!). It’s about how long they’ve been around.
I crack open an essay by Hélène Cixous and there she is quoting Van Gogh, who was reading the history plays shortly before his death in 1890:
“But what touches me […] is that the voices of these people, which […] reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you think you know them and see the thing.”
The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, vol. 3, p. 187
I need the weight of history right now—the notion that something, anything has been bringing us together to laugh and cry and consider what it means to be human for more than 500 years.
I guess I’m just hung up on art at the end of the world, and the things it can and can’t do to keep us together.