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Journal, Day One

By Kay Ryan

In spite of my description above, I really haven’t been spending time blogging, or even reading blogs. This is my first, and undertaken because I was asked. I could give it a grumpy title, like Larkin’s title for his collected prose: Required Writing.

My first impulse was to cheat and prepare a week’s worth of foil wrapped entrees that the Poetry Foundation could pop into the microwave each morning. That way they’d be all clean and polished and I wouldn’t be up against the wall like this. But two things stopped me: One, my inability to take my job seriously until the very last minute; and Two, the sense that doing them ahead would really be cheating on the idea of a blog.

Because isn’t a blog supposed to be immediate and risky and regrettable? The blogger is supposed to be bringing some immediate fire to this thing, right? Be kind of off balance, intemperate, hasty? (Like here, in my haste, I can’t stop to choose between intemperate and hasty.)

However, these are things that fire my disinterest. Of course I court Risk and Regret, but I am not so interested in the lightweight risk and regret of just lacking the time to think things through. I want to take a long time for everything.

“‘I want to take a long time for everything,’ artist says.” This is the continued-on-p. E9 title of an article in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle (Saturday, December 2). (OK, I’m writing this two days before it will be posted, but to me it’s a split second.) I had hoped that the pressure of having to write this blog would make something special appear, and it did. Much as I hate it, pressure does deform the mind in useful ways, pressing the brain more firmly against material. So, anyhow, in this article we meet Chinese camera obscura artist, Shi Guorui, currently making a series of enormous pinhole camera photographs in the Bay Area. He sits inside his dark tent/camera watching the picture come up on photographic paper against the back wall. He sits there anywhere from 90 minutes to eight hours. He might drink some tea or a beer. He likes the blankness: “When I’m inside, I feel this quiet in my mind, in my heart. The time for normal people is very long. For me, I feel the time is blank. It goes by very quickly.”

As another person who seeks sensory deprivation, I just love this artist. I love the patience of the silent light gradually blackening the paper (camera obscura photos are reversed, like negatives.) I love sitting in the dark of an empty mind, seeing what comes up. The beer is nice too.

So there are two forces working here, as you have no doubt already noted, dear reader. There is one’s reluctance to hurry, with its natural companions: silence, emptiness, and dark. And there is, on the other hand, the pressure to get something done, with its natural companion, attentiveness to any possible handhold that might save one from disgrace or death (if you distinguish).

It seems cruel that forces have to come in pairs, like this, in order to work at all.


If you have read all the way to the bottom of this, I hope you will go one step further and communicate with me. I’m hoping to use readers’ ideas, augmentations, refutations, tangents, and so on instead of relying on the newspaper for tomorrow’s musings. Does that sound opportunistic? Well, you can see why.

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, December 4th, 2006 by Kay Ryan.