Monthly Archives December 2013

A Happy Anniversary Feedback Request

I launched this blog one year ago yesterday with a long and somewhat dense essay on the work of novelist and critic Marilynne Robinson. The post likely heartened the lit majors and frightened away most casual readers who had perhaps been hoping for some friendly daily diary entry or witty reflections on my cat. (Note to readers: love my cat, don’t do cat columns, though in the interests of reportorial honesty, I should probably mention that the dude keeps jumping up on my chest as I type these words, conveniently wedging himself between my eyes and my laptop, my chin resting on his nose as he purrs like an industrial machine. This makes it quite comfy for him but exceedingly difficult for me to see my screen.)

(So does this now qualify as a cat column?)

Anyway: soon after launching the blog and circling around what it wanted to address, sound and look like, I got a fine piece of advice from a colleague: “W...

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Nutrition for the Eyes: A Holiday Photo Gallery

In this “Special Holiday Edition!” of the Traversing blog, I’m going to severely crimp on the words. Instead, I’ll let us all scroll and feast on just a sampling of the vision and verve exemplified by the photographers who have helped fill out the picture, as it were, of the world we have been exploring, questioning, and elaborating upon over the last year.

I offer this specifically as deep and lasting “nutrition” rather than the popular phrase “eye candy,” because photography such as this is calorically dense and nutritious fare that feeds us in untold ways. It is life-enhancing, with the power to stay with us and suggest new ways of pausing, seeing and absorbing the world in front of us.

So let’s get right down to it.

By Mahesh Telkar

“Lovely” and “beautiful” seem just hopelessly inadequate here…

By Bahman Farzad

How delicate yet powerful those wings.

By Pétur Gauti Valgeirsson

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Dear David Brooks: We’re All Nobodies, Doing Nothing——All Hail!

David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times December 17 that was, even for an occasionally sardonic humorist such as himself, unusually dyspeptic. In it, he skewered “Thought Leaders” who march through their self-important lives giving TED Talks, their “eyes blazing at the echo of the words ‘breakout session.’”

Brooks traced the development of such people back to their college application essays, when they likely wrote along the lines of: “I Went to Panama to Teach the Natives About Math but They Ended Up Teaching Me About Life.”

Later, the youth is “widely recognized for his concern for humanity. (He spends spring break unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.)”

This is funny stuff, classic Brooksian satire, but the column gets progressively more sour as he follows his mythical hero through the various compromises and unvarnished sell-outs of middle age, when “his life...

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Rage Against the Machine: A Kenneth Rexroth Appreciation

Robots are all the rage. They will either save or destroy our economy, no one quite knows yet, but we do know that just like the world’s population, they will continue to proliferate and insinuate themselves into virtually every corner of our lives. Robots are building cars, bringing autistic kids out of their shell, vacuuming floors, exploring sunken ships, rolling across the dust of the moon.

And even robots themselves have been rendered unnecessary by electronic sensors, so rather than being greeted by a cute R2-D2 character chirping, “Good morning, kindly commuter!” as you pause at the Golden Gate Bridge and slip some bills into his remarkably flexible mechanized hand, a mostly invisible sensor just reads your license plate as you zip on through the now empty toll booth.

You know, the same booth you always aimed toward, the one that was the workplace of Shirley, a single mother of two who knew yo...

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Songs of Rain

There’s something altogether spiritual about a good soaking rain after a long dry spell. Spiritual as in “lifting one’s spirits,” one’s soul cleansed and refreshed, the body buoyant again after the equivalent of crawling on hands and knees over the parched desert soil for months on end, squinting forlornly at the cloudless sky.

It is not for nothing that spiritual seekers who can’t quite get right with their God bemoan the “aridity” of their quest. Seekers, writers (and lovers) go through “dry periods,” when the moisture that is an essential lubricant of every social and creative discourse is absent. One withers, body and soul.

Until Friday it had rained all of some five inches in the Bay Area since January 1, an intolerable shortfall that takes up residence in the psyche as a kind of low level, background trepidation, the “D” word lodged there as we go about our sun-drenched days...

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