Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Self Respect

In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues. The measure of its slipping prestige is that one tends to think of it only in connection with homely children and with United States senators who have been defeated, preferably in the primary, for re-election. Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.
- Joan Didion, On Self Respect (1961)

More Didion. Worked my way through Slouching Towards Bethlehem on the bus to NYC. Only to get on the subway and lean over to check the map and notice that the girl to my left was reading the same book. And the same essay I'd just finished. It's a funny world. I told the story to the clerk behind the counter at McNally Jackson and he just laughed and said that New York was Didion country.. The East Village, at times, did feel a bit like an extension of SF. Or perhaps the other way around?

On Self Respect is really an incredible essay.. It gets at the crux of what I realized last winter. That I couldn't please everyone. That it was OK to say No. Otherwise you end up in the territory of those last two paragraphs. And to learn (as I just did) that she wrote it at the last minute, to fill in for a missing piece, and wrote it to fit a pre-set length not just to the word, but to the character.. impressive.

The usual New York rambles. The Egyptian collection at the Met. And the recently (to me) renovated Greek / Roman galleries. With a side-trip to the 20th Century. My favorites (mostly) still there. The little things. Bookstores in the East Village and SoHo. Picked up:

  • Coming Through the Slaughter - Ondaatje
  • My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy - 33 1/3 Series
  • Lou Reed: The Last Interview and other Conversations
And then, The Thing in Greenpoint (with its piles of unsorted vinyl) yielded a great Ghanian record and an ancient BB King 45. And some incredible pictures and some grammar books. I grabbed a few random letters (written between high-school friends who had just started different colleges in 1976) from a box of detritus and they turned out to be much less interesting than I'd hoped.. Alas. Great dinner at the Spotted Pig. And pierogies at Veselka. A knish at Yonah Schimmel. The views, those corners, it all came back - effortlessly. I miss it there. For sure.

Listening to Lou Reed's New York on Grooveshark at my desk. His interviews were simultaneously interesting and off-putting. The same themes, repeated.. But given that I was on a Bowie kick before the trip, it's not that far of a leap. And it fits, somehow. The book on MDBTF was mildly illuminating. Short. And helpful in that it got the sheer joy of his collage - but the endless discussions of twitter and narcissism as defining characteristics of our age. Well. It got old.

Looking forward to Dylan on Saturday. And that week alone to sort things out.

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