An Ethics of Wild Mind … An Interview with David Hinton

David Hinton:

Winter is a kind of pregnant emptiness. Spring emerges out of that—it flourishes. And life flourishes in summer and then dies back into that emptiness of winter. And you realize, oh, my thoughts are doing the same thing that the ten thousand things do—they’re part of the same tissue…. And so that’s another radical reweaving of consciousness and wildness—what I mean by “wild mind.”

Listen to the Conversation


Photo by Phil Dera

February 7, 2023

In this conversation, poet, translator, and author David Hinton calls for a radical reweaving of mind and land. Tracing the shifts in human consciousness that distanced us from nature, he draws on Tao and Ch’an Buddhist philosophy in an effort to help us navigate the sixth extinction with an ethics tempered by love.


Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee David, I want to start our conversation today by asking you to read a poem. It’s a poem that underpins much of what you explore in your new book Wild Mind, Wild Earth—an ancient Chinese poem that you suggest holds within it an ethics that we so desperately need at this time of great ecological crisis. Could you read that poem for us?

David Hinton Sure. It’s called Egrets.

Robes of snow, crests of snow, and beaks of azure


they fish in shadowy streams. Then startling away


flight, they leave emerald mountains for lit distances.

Pear blossoms, a tree-full, tumble in the evening


EV So tell me about this poem.

DH It’s a pretty typical classical Chinese poem that’s short—four lines, five words per line—written in the ninth century. And what’s interesting about it is that it’s all images. There’s sort of no abstract, isolated self looking out on the world thinking about it; it’s all the immediacy of crystalline images. The interesting thing about this is that after we see the egrets leave, suddenly in the last line there’s something completely different that has nothing to do with the egrets. There’s this big leap from the egrets leaving emerald mountains to suddenly pear blossoms, a tree-full, tumble in the evening wind. There’s no kind of logical connection between those. There’s a kind of imagistic connection, because the egrets are small, fluttering white things going up; and pear blossoms are small, white things fluttering down. But why did we go from one to the other? That’s part of the magic. Because images have no kind of abstract intellectual content. And then that leap between the two has no content. They’re empty.

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

Walter Mosley on America ~ NYT


Walter Mosley is best known as one of contemporary literature’s pre-eminent crime novelists, but he’s actually four or five different writers rolled into one. Famous for his Easy Rawlins series of novels, Mosley has also written sci-fi (“Blue Light”), existential erotica (“Killing Johnny Fry”), parables about race (“Fortunate Son”), political monographs (“Life Out of Context”) and writing guides (“This Year You Write Your Novel”), to cite just a few of the 50 or so books he has published. He’s an altogether thornier, more idiosyncratic writer than readers may know, an inveterate investigator and chronicler of his own heart, mind and soul. “Art itself, like psychoanalysis, comes from deep inside you, somewhere where all of these things are roiling around, coming together, falling apart,” says the 71-year-old Mosley, whose new novel, “Every Man a King,” the second to feature his ex-N.Y.P.D.-investigator-turned-private-eye protagonist, Joe King Oliver, will be published on Feb. 21. “I write seven days a week, usually three hours a day, and when I’m writing, things come up. I say, here’s something! I like finding out what I’m about.”

When I was reading old articles about you, especially from around the time of 

“Devil in a Blue Dress,”1

1This 1990 novel, which introduced the Easy Rawlins character and was later adapted into a film starring Denzel Washington, was Mosley’s first published novel. Easy has been featured in 14 subsequent books. a lot of them talked about how your work brought a new kind of representation to the detective genre. All these years later, are there any ways in which you see the publishing world’s idea of “representation” as also carrying any limiting expectations? Here’s the thing: When I first got published, there weren’t a lot of Black people being published. The amount of work that you had to do to be out there in the world was amazing. That’s no longer true. But publishing has remained incredibly white. Because it’s been so white, and because it’s the kind of business where you hire your friends, you also hire people who tell stories that you’re interested in. It’s not like, “I don’t want to hire that Black person.” It’s more like, “I don’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s not my friend.” So that’s one thing. But the reason publishers started publishing more books by Black people is that Black people buy books in which they see themselves. There are a lot of books out there that do represent who Black people are and what we think about. It’s not that only white people read the books, and so we have to create books that white people will feel somehow satisfied by.

So representation doesn’t present any potential pitfalls? Explain what you mean.

I’ll try by analogy. If Jewish American novelists could only get work published that was still responding to the mid-20th-century pressures of assimilation or was all written in the shadow of mainstream successes like Saul Bellow or Philip Roth, that, to me, would be a limiting kind of representation. Similarly, I wonder if the mainstream publishing industry is still mostly interested in a narrow slice of Black experience. Does that make any sense? I just want to say, before we get into answering that question, that 

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby2

2Two of Marvel Comics’ key creative figures. are Jewish, and they weren’t writing about being Jewish. They were writing stories. When you talk about Saul Bellow and Roth, there’s a certain really small group of people who think that they’re really important in their lives. I’m not one of those people. There’s some good writing in there, but if you write what is essentially memoir, you have to be writing about a period of time, not about yourself. Once you start talking about the girls you banged and the people who mistreated you, then it’s like, man, this is not interesting; it should be a Wikipedia page. But Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and there’s nothing Jewish in it at all. Stan and Jack said: “This is fun! We can express ourselves and make money and have an audience.” And they did. I think there are a lot of so-called white people who don’t feel represented in literature. If you’re in the South, how many people are writing about the problems of your life? Bellow and Roth, they’re writing a very particular kind of story, but they don’t represent America. The only people who write about them are people who have degrees in literature.

Walter Mosley in 1990, the year that his first novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” was published.Marion Ettlinger/Contour by Getty Images

This is only tangentially related, but I was reading about “Herzog” the other day, and did you know that the year it came out, that book was a huge best seller?3Bellow’s 1964 novel about a cuckolded academic going through a midlife crisis was on best-seller lists for 42 weeks. The literary culture was so different 60 or so years ago. But wait a second. Who’s the guy? He was a crime writer. He’d write a line like “She came in the door packing a pair of .38s. The author of the almost comically hard-boiled series of detective novels featuring the aptly surnamed character Mike Hammer. He said, “This writer came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Spillane, don’t you think it’s a tragedy that seven out of the 10 best-selling books last year were your books?’” And he said, “Shut up, or I’ll write three more.” People read books looking for what’s missing in their lives, looking for action and adventure. Really, I don’t even know what Bellow’s talking about. Honestly, I don’t. I mean, I like his writing. I’m happy that he won a Nobel Prize. I’m also happy that Roth didn’t. But what are the problems that we face when you start dealing with capitalism, existentialism, when you start living with sexism? How do we deal with these things? With identity politics? You have to tell stories about real people experiencing it and not real people with a Ph.D. People who are not stupid but ignorant, who don’t know things about the world. So then they’re trying to figure out what’s right and wrong according to what they do know. Which is why I bring up Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. When I was a kid, I learned from comic books. You see the Sub-Mariner in a comic book. You say, here is a supervillain, but he’s a supervillain because the surface dwellers destroyed his people. He’s more like a guerrilla fighter. As a kid, you read that, and you think about it naturally. You don’t even think about thinking about it, but you’re thinking about it!

When you say you don’t know what Bellow is talking about, you mean the milieu of his books? The people? I guess I don’t identify with the emotional impetus of a lot of his work. I think part of me unconsciously understands what’s going on, but the stories themselves, I get a little lost. Who, what, why is this happening? When you look at his life, a lot of it is — a lot of times you tell a story, that’s wish fulfillment. OK, but what’s the real thing going on?

Isn’t wish fulfillment as valid a motivation for storytelling as any other? Writers are working out their own stuff the best way they know how, right? Yeah, but working it out and wish fulfillment are two different things. It’s OK to want to be the hero of the story, but you still have to, at some point, say what the world they’re living in is. You know, Russel Banks the novelist died at 82 in January. He was the author of, among other great works, the majestic “Cloudsplitter,” a fictional imagining of the life of John Brown. I knew Russell. He was a good guy. He wrote a lot about himself, but he was ruthless and didn’t give himself any breaks. He understood his wishes, but he also understood the underlying reality. Bellow’s a wonderful writer, but I identified more, or I felt I could understand more, about what Russell was saying than Bellow.


The Henry Miller Library Founded by Emil White‘Where Nothing Happens’


OPEN SIX DAYS A WEEK 11 AM – 5 PM (Closed on Tuesdays)
Serving up nothing by the side of the road for 42 years!

ALERT!  We are in the rainy season here in Big Sur, 
which means Highway 1 is frequently closed.

Dana, friend of Jack Kerouac, riding Alf “The Sacred Burro.”


#51 Big Sur Wild Woman!
Dana Carnazzo Godbe. Chapter 2! 

# 50 You And Me And The Rain On The Roof
Raining in Big Sur!

# 49 Zad and Laela Leavy:
Protecting the Big Sur coast by creating the Big Sur Land Trust.

# 48 Dana Godbe Carnazzo:
A Big Sur Wild Woman! Part 1.

#47 Who By Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai.
A conversation with author Matti Friedma

The Revolt of The Public, A talk by author and ex-CIA analyst
Martin Gurri. February 22 at 3 PM

Good News 2: 
Tropic of Cancer clocks in at # 4 of Bob Dylan’s all time favorite books. 
Read about it here!

Quote from Carly Taylor’s article
Miller is a powerful author to turn to in our periods of hopelessness, for he can breed joy where others find only nihilism. He sees “a world without hope but no despair.”

Stefan White and Magnus Torén sat down for a wonderful conversation (and a reunification after 31 years!) Here’s the Podcast Episode.

You will hear Stefan’s beautiful voice telling stories about family, Australia, Big Sur, Austria and much more. Some of the White family we speak of are in photographs that Stefan provided to the right: Stefan, Dan, Pat, Emil. 
We also touch on:
The Morgenrath family.
Robert Redford and Sonia Braga
A mail-order bride Mother
Living close to where Hitler grew up
Biking in central Europe
Sleeping with headhunters
Being better than Giacometti!
Dr Zeus….and, very important for Stefan, we spoke of his dedication and love for Prem Rawat.




A Steinway upright is now installed, tuned and ready for you to play, perform and record! (Acoustics in this room is legendary!)

The piano was donated to us by a generous family north of us and delivered by Howard Piano Moving.

My whole aim in life is to get near to God, that is, to get nearer to myself. That’s why it doesn’t matter to me what road I take. But music is very important. Music is a tonic for the pineal gland. Music isn’t Bach or Beethoven; music is the can-opener of the soul. It makes you terribly quiet inside, makes you aware that there’s a roof to your being.

To be is music, which is a profanation of silence in the interests of silence, and therefore beyond good and evil. Music is the manifestation of action without activity. It is the pure act of creation swimming on its own bosom. Music neither goads nor defends, neither seeks nor explains. Music is the noiseless sound made by the swimmer in the ocean of consciousness. It is a reward which can only be given by oneself. It is the gift of the god which one is because he has ceased thinking about god. It is an augur of the God which every one will become in due time, when all that is will be beyond imagination.

All music is still governed by the old astronomy, is the product of the hothouse, a panacea for Weltschmerz. Music is still the antidote for the nameless, but this is not yet music. Music is planetary fire, an irreducible which is all-sufficient; it is the slate-writing of the gods, the abracadabra which the learned and the ignorant alike muff because the axle has been unhooked.

/  Henry Miller

The Henry Miller Library guarantees all guests the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. It is not the proper role of the Library to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. There are many books and stories to read, to write, to tell, and to listen to.   

We hope to learn from different ideas, why and how they come to be, and what values they’re premised on. To always critique and argue in good-faith. 




~~~ LISTEN ~~~

For decades, the Grammys’ spoken-word awards have gone to audio books, narrated by people like Barack and Michelle Obama, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Colbert and others – “Best Audio Book, Narration & Storytelling Recording” is the official title for the statue. But this year, poets will have their own: Best Spoken Word Poetry Album.

The Chicago-born poet J. Ivy helped create the new category and is one of five contenders for the award, though he didn’t nominate himself. As a national trustee for the Recording Academy, Ivy says he pushed for the Grammys to honor the form.

“A poet will be bringing home a Grammy,” he tells NPR, “and it’ll be the first poet since Maya Angelou.”

Ivy is nominated for his sixth album, The Poet Who Sat by the Door, a nod to Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, a classic in the Black Power movement that was also made into a film in 1973.

Ivy’s album is a collection of his poems, which he performs over beats and interpolates with singing by Sir The BaptistSlick RickPJ Morton and Tarrey Torae (Ivy’s wife), among others.

“I’ve seen the superpower that is poetry. I’ve seen it shift people’s lives, I’ve seen it save lives,” says Ivy. “I have a quote that says, ‘Poetry is the seed of every song ever written.’ Whether it’s somebody rapping or singing or it being spoken, it’s a poem there.”

J. Ivy, onstage during at the Grammy Museum on Dec. 11, 2022 in LA.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Ivy says his poems are often about his life as a Black man in America: “My job or responsibility as a poet is to capture that as quickly as possible, as the ancestors are speaking to me, as God is talking to me, I’m working as the angels are talking to me.” He says that work begins by listening, to his heart and his community – “Listen” is the title of one piece from the album.

Another features Abiodun Oyewole, a co-founder of 1960s poetry collective The Last Poets, which had a significant influence on the development of rap. “J.Ivy’s work is to be heard. It’s not to be whispered. It’s to be said loud in your face,” Oyewole tells NPR.

He was born James Ivy Richardson II on Chicago’s South Side in 1976, growing up to spit rhymes as a teen and, in college, confront his own history through writing. He says his dad’s drug and alcohol abuse meant they didn’t see each other for a decade. Not long after they reconnected, his father died. He put that pain into a poem. It begins:

Dear Dad,

These words are being spoken and written because my heart and soul feel broken. I laugh to keep from crying but I still haven’t healed after all of my years of my goofiness and joking. You got me open and hoping this ill feeling will pass, won’t last. I wear a mask so my piece won’t ask for the truth, truthfully speaking the truth hurts but I’m beyond hurting, I’m in pain, and when I was a shorty I thought you left because I wouldn’t behave. Later on in life I found out that it was the pain as well as other things and with all the scars it was hard but I learned to forgive and forgave…

Ivy performed “Dear Father” onstage for HBO Def Poetry in 2005. By then, he’d already worked his way around open mics, eventally hosting the hottest poetry nights in Chicago. When he performed at the Apollo Theater for Russell Simmon’s Def Poetryjam, he got a standing ovation.

“That was my first big break,” Ivy says. “I always describe it as like a sprinter making it to the Olympics.”

On Def Poetry he also performed another poem, “Never Let Me Down.” Kanye Westand Jay-Z were so impressed by the performance they flew Ivy to LA shortly after, to record the poem for an album they were putting together called The College Dropout.

“Kanye was like, ‘Man, that was that was great,’ ” Ivy recalls. “People [were] coming into the studio getting chills, tears in they eyes. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this moment’s actually happening.’ ” (West would also later feature Ivy playing the part of Jesus in a music video for a 2019 album, Jesus is King.)

It was at The College Dropout recording sessions that Ivy met singer John Stephens, whose music he admired.

“I was like ‘What’s up, man? Your music is amazing. It sounds like that music my folks used to listen to back in the day,’ ” Ivy recalls. “”Man, you sound like one of the legends. Matter of fact, that’s what I’m call you from now: a legend. John the legend. John Legend.’ “

John Legend, as he’s been known ever since, would go on to sing for one of the tracks from Ivy’s now-Grammy-nominated album.


This is correspondence to a friend while reading 4-Seasons Landscaping story yesterday


as i began my descent yesterday

i read Olivia Nuzzi’s 4-Seasons fiasco

i about choked on the Pacifico i was sipping

She’s is an absolutely hilarious writer with

a straight ahead style

with politicians like that you’ve

got to laugh just to keep from crying

By Olivia Nuzzi, New York’s Washington correspondent

Whether it’s war and peace or public relations and gardening, sorting out the truth is a complicated endeavor when it relates to Donald Trump. Everyone involved in anything, no matter the size, no matter how stupid, seems to lie as a first resort, or to know very little, or to lie about knowing very little, or to know just enough to send blame in another direction, and the person in that direction seems to lie also, or to know very little, or to lie about knowing very little, but perhaps they have a theory that sends blame someplace else, and over there, too, you will find more liars, more know-nothings, and before long, a whole month will have passed, and you still haven’t filed your story about how the president’s attorney wound up undermining democracy in a parking lot off I-95 on a strip of cracked pavement in a run-down part of a city that ordinarily would command no consideration from the national political class or the very online public or the equally online mainstream media, which, when forced to look, found lots of reason to laugh.


The circus is gone. The presidency is ending. The mystery endures. Photo: Olivia Nuzzi

On the afternoon of November 13, Mike Siravo was standing outside his family’s landscaping business in Northeast Philadelphia, dressed in khakis and a company polo shirt, watching as strangers pulled up in nice cars, parked without care on the busy street, and approached the barbed-wire-topped fence with iPhones gripped in outstretched hands. They all came for the same reason: to see for themselves the words FOUR SEASONS TOTAL LANDSCAPING. SINCE 1992. PARKING ONLY. ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED AT OWNERS’ EXPENSE. In packs, they laughed openly. Alone, they wore bemused expressions, eyes focused on their screens. All of them spent a few minutes taking in the sight and, more importantly, documenting their visit with selfies.

Workers walked in and out of the parking lot, sometimes shaking their heads but mostly keeping them down and not saying much to any of the outsiders for whom the landscaping company was now an unusual monument to the end of America, or the end of the thing that had symbolized the end of America, or something. It was three o’clock on a workday. “I’m just an employee,” one of them said. “I don’t know anything.”

A man on a bicycle paused near the front office to stare at the building. On the other side of the blinds, there were desks and filing cabinets illuminated by fluorescent light and people going about their day, which would have been a normal one were it not for the 20,000 T-shirt orders to process and the intrusion of tourists who saw the place as some kind of zoo exhibition. There was an awkward silence, but then Siravo smiled and shrugged in the direction of the sidewalk, asking the curious bicyclist the obvious question: Was he looking for a photo? He leapt down the steps to take the man’s phone and, with the enthusiasm of a mall photographer, instructed him how to pose. Siravo leaned back into the street, making sure the angle captured the green-and-white awning with the company name.

A couple of feet away, a family of four was staging a holiday card. Lois Neuberger and Matthew Gold said they were in town from California, visiting their daughter at school, when it occurred to them they were just a short distance from the festive greeting–slash–political meme of a lifetime. “It’s become such a thing that we decided it would be a fun idea,” Gold said with a laugh. “Everyone will get it.” (Including me, in the literal sense, since the Neuberger-Golds kindly added my address to their mailing list.)

By then, there were all sorts of rumors on State Road about the Siravo family’s connections with the Trump campaign and the Philadelphia Republican Party. But it had been nearly a week since Rudy Giuliani’s press conference in the parking lot out back, and the only evidence anyone could turn up to support the theory that what had occurred here wasn’t just a freak public-relations accident or hilarious fuckup were a few pro-Trump Facebook posts from Mike’s mother, Marie Siravo, who owns the business. She had been shrewd enough to release a statement amid the frenzy that said the landscapers were not partisans and then to mostly avoid speaking to the media as she rushed out the door, clutching a Louis Vuitton bag, to a white Jeep with a FOUR SEASONS license plate on the front bumper. The Siravos were nothing if not good marketers, and by December, they’d sold more than $1 million of the merchandise they’d drawn up to capitalize on all the attention, like stickers that read “Make America Rake Again!” and “Lawn and Order!”

“We don’t really know how it happened. We heard it might’ve been a mistake or something,” Mike Siravo said. “We just kinda picked up the phone and said yes and cleared some stuff out and managed to make it happen.”

A man locks the gate at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The sign has become a prime backdrop for selfie-seekers. Photo: Olivia Nuzzi

If that was true, it didn’t explain how it came to be that the phone rang at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in the first place. Siravo wouldn’t say who had called, or if he knew how Donald Trump’s campaign had even heard of the small landscaping business, or anything else, really, that might tell how this stretch of asphalt became the official site of the end of the presidency and the beginning of the ass-backward pseudo-legal effort to reverse the results of the election. According to the New York Times, there had been a miscommunication between Trump and the event planners. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the campaign made the staging choice that morning, after calling one of the Siravo’s employees. My search for answers involved — I swear to God — more than 37 sources spread throughout the White House, the Trump campaign, the president’s network of advisers both formal and informal, the Republican Party, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This is not counting Siravo, who said he was sorry, but his family had decided not to talk — except, he added, about golf. They’d just done an interview limited to the subject of Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s approach to manicuring courses.




Whether it’s war and peace or public relations and gardening, sorting out the truth is a complicated endeavor when it relates to Donald Trump. Everyone involved in anything, no matter the size, no matter how stupid, seems to lie as a first resort, or to know very little, or to lie about knowing very little, or to know just enough to send blame in another direction, and the person in that direction seems to lie also, or to know very little, or to lie about knowing very little, but perhaps they have a theory that sends blame someplace else, and over there, too, you will find more liars, more know-nothings, and before long, a whole month will have passed, and you still haven’t filed your story about how the president’s attorney wound up undermining democracy in a parking lot off I-95 on a strip of cracked pavement in a run-down part of a city that ordinarily would command no consideration from the national political class or the very online public or the equally online mainstream media, which, when forced to look, found lots of reason to laugh.

Bernie D’Angelo didn’t blame them. An electrician by trade and a Rolling Stones fanatic, D’Angelo has owned all kinds of businesses over the years, including a health-food store and a pizza parlor, but Fantasy Island, theadult book store he inherited from his parents, is by far his favorite. He appreciates how it’s “a lot more fun” than the others, generally, and specifically, he appreciates how the adult business strips the airs from anyone who ascends the steps under the bright-yellow sign outside to cross his carpeted threshold. “This is reality,” he said. “When they come in, they check their egos at the door, because look: It is what it is. There’s no sugarcoating it.” He gestured to the wall of dildos on his left.

Fantasy Island owner Bernie D’Angelo, who voted for Joe Biden, said he wants America to “chill out a little.” Photo: Olivia Nuzzi

That Saturday morning, D’Angelo said, he was keeping to himself when a customer ran in to report “a problem going on” outside, where police had suddenly appeared to block off the road. “So we looked out and found it was Giuliani who made a big mistake.” He laughed hard. “He was at the wrong Four Seasons hotel, the wrong one!” He paused to laugh with every few words. “‘Cause that’s a … landscaping! … And not a hotel! … A five-star hotel! … And that’s … one-star … landscaping!” He could barely breathe. “So you’ve got dead people, landscaping, and pornography!”

When I first visited, right after the press conference, the joke was still alive. A local newsman and his camera guy had been set up for a live shot on the sidewalk all afternoon. But soon they were gone. Why wasn’t I? I came back even after I got into a car accident between the landscapers and the Pentecostals (little was damaged beyond my already poor reputation with Avis). After a few days, I wasn’t sure if I truly believed that history had been made in that patch of tar behind Four Seasons Total Landscaping. It was true that the presidency had officially ended there, but it was also true that the site itself felt like someone had erected a somber memorial at the scene of one of the lesbian pillow-fight pornos for sale at Fantasy Island (not that I looked).

Rudy Giuliani did not visit Fantasy Island, according to its owner, who said Giuliani’s posse was “eyeing” his porn shop that Saturday but did not submit to the temptation. Business has since taken off. Photo: Olivia Nuzzi

About those dead people: Regulations keep crematories out of the way of most businesses, but Delaware Cremation Center would blend in fine in a more developed area, even if the pandemic has made it an unusually busy place. On State Road, it sticks out as weirdly nice-looking. The sign over the doorway is new, the brick façade unweathered. The black shutters around the window complement an iron bench and gate. If a place where bodies are turned to ash can be welcoming, you could call it that. There’s a space inside for mourners to gather to drink and eat, and there are pews in which to pray. You can see, in these and other small details, how the business of caring for the dead is often about caring for the living. Viewed from here, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping circus looked as much like an indictment of a certain kind of liberalism as an illustration of Trumpian incompetence. But picking at the bones of any joke will make it unfunny after a while, and by the time I was looking at the drawers where they push the bodies in, I’d been trying to make sense of what happened there for too long.

As one Philadelphia Republican official told me: “Duuuuuude! It’s sooooo embarrassing! Oh my God! It’s the height of idiocy!”

It was probably always that simple.



February 2, 2023

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A century ago, some of America’s greatest artists and writers found strength in a community that became known as the Harlem Renaissance — a confluence of now-familiar names including Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Neale Hurston and Aaron Douglas. 

Today pianist Lara Downes, host of NPR’s interview series Amplify, which has just launched its third season, wonders: Are we currently in a new, Harlem-style renaissance?

The Harlem Renaissance, she says, was nothing less than an explosion of creativity and transformation. “It happened because of communal movement and shift — 300,000 Black Americans moving out of the South in the Great Migration that brought so many to Harlem and to other cities,” she says. “It was a meeting of minds, this energy of shared experience. There’s a courage and a confidence of expression that can only happen in community.”

Langston Hughes, a key figure, wrote an essay in 1926 that served as a sort of statement of purpose, saying: “We intend to express our individual dark skin cells without fear or shame. We know we are beautiful and ugly, too. We build our temples for tomorrow as strong as we know how.”

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Since the death of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter, Downes feels a major shift in the arts world; a strengthened focus on inclusion and recognition of Black artists. She says it’s been complicated, conflicted and long overdue.

“For me, as a classical pianist, it’s always been the status quo that I’d be aware of other Black artists working in my discipline,” she says. “But we were all like these little islands in a sea of whiteness. Now, I feel connected and like I’m part of a cohort. There’s so much energy.”

Downes points to composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard, the first Black composer to have his operas presented at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and to Jessie Montgomery, the composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who was named the composer of the Year by Musical America.

While it feels like a genuine phenomenon in this moment, there’s also been backlash. Books that focus on race are being banned. A new adaptation of The Little Mermaidwith a Black leading actress riled some who felt that this modicum of diversity diluted the original story, though it’s completely fictional. Downes thinks the Harlem Renaissance offers yet another good lesson.

“When you’ve got this 100 years of history, then you’re aware of the cycles of history,” she says. “So I don’t think that any of us who are working today feel like everything’s been fixed. I feel like this is a moment. And the action that’s being taken, whether it’s cynical or not, whether it’s lasting or not, what do we do as artists? What agency do wetake to grab this moment to create something that can live on? I think it’s about the strength of that community as a force for change.”

Alain de Botton, The School of Life ~ thank you EB


For most of history, societies have equated good lives with active outward noisy ones: lives spent spearing enemies in battle, sacrificing oneself heroically in the name of God, achieving high office and fame, amassing riches and honours and becoming known for artistic and scientific breakthroughs. To this, the modern age has added its own demands. A good active life should involve commercial success, a wide circle of friends, frequent foreign travel, close knowledge of a number of cities, awareness of leading ideas in art and technology, a sense of fashion, viewership of recent drama series and, almost inevitably, a twice weekly high intensity workout.

It has always seemed odd to argue for something else, what one might call a quiet life, a life where one lives outside of an expensive urban center, where one works to satisfy material needs and intellectual curiosity but without frenzy or emotional craving, where one might only intermittently check the news, rarely travel very far, almost never go out in the evenings, stay in touch with just a few friends, spend a lot of time in nature, exercise by going for walks, eat simply (mainly fruit and vegetables), seldom buy anything expensive, disregard most new books – and strive always to be in bed by ten.

The modern world makes sure that we know at all times just how much we might be missing. It is a culture in which intense and painful doses of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are almost inevitable. We hear of defined centres where the most exciting things must be happening. At one time it was New York, for a few years it was Berlin, in the coming years, it will (perhaps) be Auckland. There are books that have to be read, and films that must be seen. There are people we should be visiting and opportunities that we must not pass up. It can feel like a privilege, until we become aware that it is a coercion.

Art has tracked and nurtured our noisy enthusiasms. Traditionally, most works have displayed the exploits of brave aristocrats, usually in battle, and the dramatic and self-abnegating feats of religious figures. There were strong jawed men on horseback and haughty ladies in profile, saints ascending to heaven and Biblical heroes defending virtue against satan.

Yet as the world became ever noisier, a minority tradition emerged with a new mission in mind: opening our eyes to the unexpected charms of ordinary, modest lives. The pioneers were the artists of the 17th century Dutch republic. In the canvases of Johannes Vermeer or Pieter de Hooch, there are no military processions or divine annunciations, there is something far braver and more redemptive: people like us, doing the simple important normal things, sweeping the yard, putting away the laundry, checking the kids’ hair for knits and getting supper ready.

Pieter de Hooch, A mother delousing a child’s hair, 1658

It was the genius of the Dutch artists to demonstrate that there might be as much opportunity for bravery, good sense and kindness in a kitchen or a yard as there might be on a battlefield or in a royal palace. They have been joined in subsequent centuries by artists comparably interested in the everyday: the quiet interiors of Wilhelm Hammershoi, the gardens of Erasmus Engert, the unassuming moments captured in the photographs of Jessica Todd Harper.

Erasmus Engert, A Garden in Vienna, 1828

Jessica Todd Harper, Becky in the Den, 2003

Defenders of quiet lives know that there are, of course, some genuinely special things going on in the world, but they do not let the obvious signs of glamour be their guide to these. The novel they might really need to read is almost certainly not currently winning prizes or in the bestseller lists. It may have been written two hundred years ago and be available mostly in second hand editions. They know that what is precious can be jumbled up with uncomplicated and straightforward things. Great intelligence may not be accompanied by academic qualifications. A deep conversation can be had with a relative who likes watching snooker on television and has stopped dying their hair. The defenders of quiet lives are themselves scared of missing out but they have a rather different list of things they are afraid of not enjoying: their children growing up, empty days without commitments, truly getting to know their parents, the sky at dusk, long baths, early mornings in the kitchen with the cat.

The quiet understand how much can be drawn out of a single experience, if one takes the time to turn it over in one’s mind. A trip taken ten years ago isn’t really over. So much of it remains unattended in memory: the light on the first morning by the harbour, the little museum with the geraniums in the courtyard, the tomato salad by the forest… Nothing ever disappears, it’s just waiting for the outer world to still before yielding its riches. We would need to experience so much less if we knew how to draw appropriate value from what we had already done and seen. Our impulse for constant movement may at heart be a confession of an inability to process. We feel the need for so many new experiences because we have been so poor at absorbing the ones we have had. 

Were we to be good travellers, we would know how to treat a walk to the shops as its own kind of precious adventure. We might grow a little more like curious four year olds who constantly stop, every few paces, to take in a new and extraordinary sight: a weed growing between two bricks, an oddly shaped cloud with a silvery tail, a contrail between two warehouses, a dog looking pensively at a bunch of daffodils, a piece of graffiti on a lampost, a fishmonger’s window with Dover soles and John Dorys resting on ice. It is rare to pay any of this attention when one has larger ambitions in view. But the quiet know that, contrary to all expectations, this may in fact be the center of existence, life is not elsewhere, this is what one would miss were it to have to come an end soon.

The quiet are not simply quiet out of appreciation, they are also quiet out of caution. They understand the toll that noisy lives surreptitiously exact, they know – perhaps better than those who still maintain crowded diaries – how prone we are to exhaustion, over-stimulation and collapse. They may even have lived through a breakdown themselves, when a few too many responsibilities and excitements, late nights and emotional dramas inducted them brutally into how fragile our hold on reason can be. They are living quietly to guard against folly and paranoia, anxiety and despair. They appreciate how much unglamorous routines and night after night by themselves or one or two very close friends protects them against the return of delirium.

It is easy to measure how much money we are making. It’s much harder to notice how much calm we lose in the process. We don’t keep a close eye on the true price of our noisy lives; we don’t properly add up what the trip to another country on business might have done to our levels of serenity and creativity or to our relationship with those who matter. We don’t notice how agitated every newspaper article makes us feel and how dispiriting every encounter with a false friend can prove. We’re like early scientists handling uranium without awareness of the dangers. We don’t notice what a shock to our sensitive minds it is to step into a room full of raucous acquaintances and to try to make small talk for a few hours. This is an experience it might take a month of quiet evenings to heal. We don’t understand that insomnia is our minds’ revenge for all the thoughts we have carefully managed not to have in the day and our anxiety is a bid for us to pay heed to our neglected sensitivity.

Good parents have a handle on the dangers of over-exhaustion in young children. They know that after some bright lights and dancing, jokes and games, it will be time for a nap. They know the tell-tale signs of tetchiness and a catastrophizing mindset. We take no comparable care with our equally fragile temperaments. Modern society has few visible adults reminding us that it might be enough now; it remains up to us to make the superhuman efforts required to put ourselves to bed.

An ordinary life is heroic because ordinary-sounding things are never actually ordinary or in any way easy to manage. There is immense skill and true nobility involved in bringing up a child to be reasonably independent and balanced; maintaining a good-enough relationship with a partner over many years despite areas of extreme difficulty; keeping a home in reasonable order; doing a not very exciting or well-paid job responsibly and cheerfully; listening properly to another person and, in general, not succumbing to madness or rage at the paradox and compromises involved in being alive.

We have probably already had enough excitements for many lifetimes. We have seen enough people, gone to enough places, bought enough things. We need to stop the forces of the world from continuing to draw us away from our true home. There is no center, there is no party to which we haven’t been invited. There is just us, here, now, somewhere on the pale blue dot, doing our best, surrounded by unobtrusive beauty, with a too-often unknown need to rejoin the silence and reopen our minds to vastness – and, along the way, to start going to bed far earlier.

Hunter S. Thompson Would No Longer Recognize San Francisco



I have on my wall a poster that Hunter S. Thompson, an early mentor, gave me when I moved to the Bay Area. Called “Open Letter: San Francisco, Oct. 25, 1960,” it is Hunter’s stream-of-consciousness portrait of a city soaked in booze and romanticism, a place of rebels and deadbeats and those who had run out of luck:

City of hills and fog and water, bankers and boobs — Republicans all. City of no jobs … City of no money except what you find at the General Delivery window; and somehow it’s always enough … San Francisco, edge of the western world, where you can drink all night and jump off the bridge to beat a hangover, where you can sell encyclopedias because no other job is available, where you refuse to sell encyclopedias because you have better things to do.

San Francisco is no longer that city.

Thanks in large part to the rise of Silicon Valley, San Francisco is now about money more than alienation and self-discovery and creating art. Technology has moved the city from the edge of the world to the center.

But this boom does not benefit all residents, and those left out — the majority, it seems — have begun to vocally question what is going on. The topics roiling San Francisco are the same ones driving the presidential campaigns: inequality and a shiny future that does not seem available to all.

If you live here, you can feel the Bay Area becoming the capital of Technopolis. My house is way out on the BART line, just about as far from Silicon Valley as it is possible to get via public transportation, and yet the advertisements in my station speak only to the geeks: “Is your CRM a plus or a minus?” The University of San Francisco, aspiring to be Stanford, hangs posters from streetlights touting itself as the “University of ‘Look, Mom, I just got funded.’ ” The area still has its natural beauty, but attempts to enjoy it must be plotted like military campaigns: The 32-mile trip back from the beach on Presidents’ Day took me two hours.

Silicon Valley’s unofficial motto is that it is here to improve our lives, and while in many respects this is true — who among us would willingly surrender their Gmail or iPhone camera? — San Franciscans are beginning to realize what they are asked to give up in return: San Francisco.

My story last week documenting some aspects of this transition prompted over 1,200 comments. Some of them suggested I didn’t go far enough when I said people here were waiting for some shrinkage in the tech bubble.

“Count me as one native who will now dance upon the employment graves of every tech bro as he falls to ruin,” wrote Anna, saying she had watched a friend’s “sick, elderly mother tossed out of her home by a wealthy techie.”

Others literally want the earth to move: “Many of us secretly wish for another shaker — no one gets hurt but the ones that aren’t used to it pack up and get the hell out,” said SMedeiros.

More nuanced were those who saw both sides of the issue. The city Hunter Thompson lived in more than a half-century ago, as tech boosters will surely point out, might have been cheap but it did not supply many good jobs.

“The tech boom has brought undeniable benefits to the city, including low unemployment, rising real estate prices, which benefit homeowners like us, and improved health care with state of the art hospitals,” wrote Christopher Rillo. “Yet the city has lost part of its soul, been diminished by this new gold rush.”

Another commenter summed up the situation in 10 words: “Wealth is just as capable of ravaging cities as poverty.”

One unexplored consequence of all this wealth is that Silicon Valley’s well-chronicled problem with diversity is now beginning to reshape the surrounding community. “SF has become one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S.,” wrote G. Harris. “This rarely gets mentioned. At most public events I attend in SF I am the only Black person. The same is true when I eat in restaurants.”

Evictions are moving up the income chain. It used to be that you got evicted if you didn’t have a job. Now it can happen if the value of your rental rapidly increases to more than you afford to can pay.

“ALL of the renters I know are facing the prospect of eviction, and most of us are lucky enough to make a decent salary,” wrote Jenny. “It’s crazy.”

Yet another group expressed regret that Silicon Valley, which is so fond of attempting impossible things it calls them “moonshots,” is trying so little in this respect.

“It is appalling that the very bright people making this wealth can’t seem to figure out a way to assist their less fortunate sisters and brothers,” wrote rbjd.

That seems to be the crucial issue. The future that Silicon Valley is building could improve the lives of everyone, or it might only be a playground for Silicon Valley.

The tech community insists it is working for all, but the situation increasingly brings to mind “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the iconic 1956 horror movie — set in a San Francisco suburb; the 1978 remake takes place in the city itself — of people being replaced by new and improved body duplicates.

One of the “Invasion” characters, freshly converted, advises a few holdouts: “Give up! You can’t get away from us! We’re not gonna hurt you!” Silicon Valley’s advice is similar. Put your life in our hands, the tech people say, and everything will be fine. Build more housing. Much more. Traffic might be so bad you can never leave your house, but don’t worry — we’ll be delivering everything you could possibly want via drone or Uber.

For the moment, at least, fewer people in the Bay Area seem to be buying those promises.


The artist plays with the traditional codes of engraving by incorporating a subtle touch of contemporary humour and poetry.


Words Henri Robert

#694 – “Nobusi”, 1994 © Scriptum

Although the work of Iwao Akiyama falls within the tradition of Japanese wood engravings on all points, the artist, who passed away in 2014, managed to create a singular universe through the representation of his favourite animals, including owls and cats.

Iwao Akiyama’s life was entirely dedicated to artistic practice. Born in 1921 in Oita Prefecture, he took drawing lessons with a Buddhist monk from the age of eight. After graduating from the Taiheiyogakai School in 1956, he studied alongside the great painter Shiko Munakata (1903-1975) from 1959 until 1966. This encounter would prove to be decisive. His work is now presented by the Scriptum gallery.

Animals with a poetic twist

After having worked with a type of ink painting, suiboku-ga, in his youth, Iwao Akiyama focused his attention on engravings. The influence of his master would be present throughout his career, with Shiko Munakata also having produced etchings of owls. The artist decided to limit his artistic depictions to a very narrow circle of subjects: animals (mainly owls, cats, tigers, and peacocks); female figures, often semi-abstract; and Buddhist monks. His engravings were done primarily using black ink, with his red signature distinguishing his work.

These animals’ actions are often accompanied by words from texts by Japanese poets like Ryokan—a prominent figure in Zen Buddhism during the late Edo period—and Santoka Taneda, a haiku poet.

The work of Iwao Akiyama can now be found in prestigious museum collections, including those of the National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art.

More information about Iwao Akiyama’s work can be found on the Scriptum gallery’s website.

#692 ‘Can you bite my tail?’ 1994 © Scriptum

#545 ‘Grace’, 1990 © Scriptum

#435 – ‘Whispers in the Forest’, 1979 © Scriptum

#686-38 – ‘Spring is Here’, 1994 © Scriptum