Friday, February 29, 2008

Missing Riley

On February 17, Jenn and I said goodbye to our beloved cat Riley. He had just turned five years old. He’d lost his appetite in December, and the vet found he was constipated and gave him an enema. By the new year he had lots of energy and was eating heartily, as usual. We thought he was on the mend, until he gradually stopped eating again.

I miss him a lot, especially when I come home from work and he’s not at the door to greet me, or to slip out the door and head downstairs to the laundry room. He would usually stop and look around to make sure I was following him, and he didn’t make a fuss when I scooped him up and brought him back inside.

I miss the way he would stick out his tongue when he was feeling content, or let his jaw hang down and make a lion face when he was feeling mischievous. I miss seeing him watch the fireflies in the yard during warm weather, or the special noise he would make when he saw grackles outside. I miss the way he would try to steal bits of salmon or oatmeal raisin cookie (he didn’t like chocolate chip), or would chew through the aluminum foil to get to the warm nan when I brought home takeout from an Indian restaurant. I miss the way he would warm his head under the green glass shade of the lamp on Jenn’s desk, or use her wrist rest as a pillow.

There are reminders of him everywhere in the apartment, and although it hurts a little to see them, it would hurt more (I think) to make them disappear. There are the foam rubber balls with his tooth marks in them, the bed next to the bookcases in the dining area (next to the cardboard pad where he would exercise his claws). You can see his nose prints on the window glass, and my polo shirts all have little holes in them where he used to knead my chest.

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau

Beginning in July 2004, around Thoreau's birthday on July 12, Greg Perry began posting excerpts from the 14 volumes of Thoreau's Journal as if they were the daily entries of a blogger -- as in a way they were. The Blog of Henry David Thoreau is handsomely designed and surprisingly effective. Thoreau's prose is so concentrated, often so poetic, that it may be best taken in small doses.

The Thoreau blog wasn't refreshed for a while -- though you could always look up the entry for today -- but lately it's been back on track again, and Perry has added titles to the newer entries. Here's one of my favorite recent entries:

Early Sap, 23-Feb-1857

I have seen the signs of spring. I have seen a frog swiftly sinking in a pool, or where he dimpled the surface as he leapt in. I have seen the brilliant spotted tortoises stirring at the bottom of the ditches. I have seen the clear sap trickling from the red maple.

Honoring Achebe

The other night Jenn and I went to an event sponsored by PEN, to honor Chinua Achebe on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart. It was a rainy evening. We waited for a long time outside the Town Hall on 43rd Street, and Jenn spotted our old friend Dorla, a regular from our storefront bookstore. She was there with her fiancee Kevin, and she told us that her friend Sadio -- we always used to see them together -- is studying in Finland, of all places.

It was strange to think, even after all my work on A Basket of Leaves, that modern African literature is only about as old as I am. But it was comforting and even inspiring to be in a big auditorium full of people who care about books, especially with so many Africans and Africans Americans there. Chris Abani spoke about discovering Achebe's work as a boy, because his older brother used to copy out passages from Things Fall Apart to impress girls. Chimamanda Adichie (her voice deeper than we expected) spoke of growing up as a professor's daughter in Nigeria, and how Things Fall Apart was the first book she ever read where the characters looked like her and had familiar names. Edwidge Danticat and Ha Jin were there too, and Toni Morrison spoke about an anthology of African literature she created for Random House around 1969. It was beautifully designed and edited -- she had brought a copy to show -- but due to the politics of the textbook business, or general lack of interest, almost no one bought it. I think times have changed in the last fifty years, at least a little.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Andrew Tobias: First Blogger?

I've been reading Andrew Tobias's daily column for at least ten years now, but it's only recently that I realized it's a blog. I don't think he's ever called it that himself, but it must surely be one of the first blogs on the Internet. I first started reading it when it was on the Ameritrade site, and in January 1999 Tobias bid farewell to Ameritrade after 751 columns. (Of the earlier blogs cited a few months ago by Cnet, Justin Hall's and Carolyn Burke's are no longer active.) Tobias has not only stayed active all this time, he's stayed lively. I first started reading him because of his down-to-earth investment advice. (His Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need has yet to be surpassed.) I've continued reading because of his humane and often funny take on the political scene. It's a wonderful time to be rich and powerful, he often says, and he doesn't mean it in a good way. Tobias isn't the most liberal member of the Democratic Party -- he says he's enthusiastically neutral about Hillary vs. Obama -- but he's heartfelt about traditional values like tolerance and fairness.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thanks, Jenn

I've had a website for several years -- -- but I've been ambivalent about starting a blog. I already keep a journal, which has been going for more than 25 years now, and I'm still not sure whether that's a good idea. Hemingway didn't believe in keeping a journal, apparently on the theory that it was a distraction from a writer's real work. On the other hand, everything Thoreau achieved grew out of his Journal, and I am coming to the conclusion that the Journal itself, all 14 volumes of it, might have been his masterpiece. For me, keeping a journal seems to be a matter of making sure there's still some water running through the pipes, that the expressive part of myself doesn't get completely clogged up.

So why start a blog? I suppose because there are times when writing to yourself just isn't enough. You want to put a thought out there for someone to see, even if it's not entirely formed, or send someone to a great article or a useful website or an inspiring quotation. I remember when my partner Jenn told me I should get an email address. I couldn't imagine what possible use it would be to send messages to people over the Internet. Now, of course, I can't imagine what I would do without email. So thanks for that, Jenn, and thanks for getting me started with this blog. Let's see what happens.