A Week in Culture: J. D. Daniels, Writer


The Culture Diaries


9:00 A.M. July is now nearly over. And what have I done with it. My neck hurts. Slept ten hours last night after a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon. I’m overtrained.

9:45 A.M. A letter to H about The Web’s new record, Clydotorous Scrotodhendron. The track now listed as “Luxor” was called “Rookie Season” the summer I sat in with them. Took the phone off the hook this morning to protect S’s desk time—mine needs no protecting, it may need disrupting. Terror that my mother will call the moment the phone is reconnected.

10:00 A.M. The Essential Artie Shaw. Charlie Parker with Strings.

12:00 P.M. Walking to the Farmer’s Market. M says we can’t buy arugula from the Hmong because they use human shit as fertilizer—at least I think that’s what the problem is supposed to be: M can’t say shit or even allude to it, like Henry James not talking about the dog on his porch: “something black, something canine.” Something brown, something fecal. I buy arugula from the Hmong.

2:00 P.M. Reading Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, his Fitzcarraldo diaries. He has an iron confidence in himself and in his own vision, his own interests. It’s not about what Herzog thinks he’s supposed to want, it’s about what he actually does want.

4:00 P.M. Double espresso with honey and milk. The New York Times crossword.

6:30 P.M. At the grill. Crumpling newspaper in the bottom of the chimney starter. A single swallow in the sky, twittering. Ants on the bricks in the spilt olive oil. You can see why primitive man thought fire was a god. Now we don’t think there’s any god at all. How primitive is that. An hour later: bad steak, all my fault. Good salad from S.

8:00 P.M. Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra—a.k.a. Duke Ellington featuring Johnny Hodges.

10:00 P.M. Staying up late to watch Mad Men.


7:00 A.M. Decent weather for the first time in weeks. Windows are open all over the house. The air conditioner is silent. Whiz and honk of occasional cars. A far-off train. Wind in the trees. Birds squeeping and skronking. An angry, excited cawing. Gray light. This is a nature diary, not a culture diary.

9:00 A.M. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

11:00 A.M. To YMCA. Hit the wall on deadlifts—when you hit the wall, you need the man with the hammer. Kept going, ripped my palm open, almost passed out.

1:30 P.M. To Stereo Jack’s. Impulse CD of Coleman Hawkins with Ellington, a two-record set of Gene Ammons (“The 78 Era”), Astor Piazzolla’s The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night, Archie Shepp and Richard Davis live in Boston 1989.

2:00 P.M. Comatose for three hours.

7:00 P.M. Too hot to cook. Out to José’s for carne asada. Scorpion tattoo on our waiter’s neck.


9:00 A.M. The Ultimate Art Tatum. Parker is supposed to have said, “I wish I could play like Tatum’s right hand.” What is courage, where does it come from. My torpor is disgusting. What is its origin. I am always inquiring into origins—what is culture, what is a diary—why not just make a mess of things. Stop preparing and act.

10:00 A.M. NYT and WSJ.

3:00 P.M. Tuna and noodles. Ran a copy of Andrzej Stasiuk’s Fado with some lavender—from our garden, harvested yesterday—over to K’s house. The dog didn’t bark when I knocked, nor when I rang the bell: terror that K has died. It is revolting to write using initials, especially K; but to use real names on the Internet is also very bad. A simple solution: write nothing, be nothing, please everyone.

7:00 P.M. M for dinner. S makes meat loaf, potato salad, fantastic cucumbers. M is listening to Ulysses on CD and asks for help understanding it. I go downstairs for Anthony Burgess’s Here Comes Everybody and am surprised to find that I don’t own a copy any more—maybe my ex-wife took it, along with my Television and Elvis Costello LPs and my jumper cables and whatever else I have misplaced and can blame on her. Fortunately S has her own paperback, published as Re: Joyce. I lecture for ten minutes, then rig an old Walkman with external speakers and play a cassette of Joyce reading aloud. M interrupts: “I can probably find all of this on Google,” she says.

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of Daniels’ culture diary. Daniels lives in Massachusetts. He will contribute an essay on Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the fall issue of The Paris Review.