Cambridge Diary, 2014



Photograph by J.D. Daniels.

Saturday. July.       7:15 am


Translating Bayard’s Peut-on appliquer la littérature à la psychanalyse? from a Spanish copy of ¿Se puede aplicar la literatura al psicoanálisis? One word at a time. Speed limit, 25 mph.

To Cartagena with Jamie this 22-26 September.

Tonight Jamie, Josh and Ellen will come for dinner.

Humid, overcast, drizzling rain, 60˚F but feels much hotter.


Sunday.                    6:10 am.       68˚F

Beginner’s Orchids. Phalaenopsis, cymbidium, oncidium.

Reconciliation with the father. Henry IV, Part One.

Ideas for essays on films. Sorcerer at Brattle vs. Clouzot’s Wages of Fear. Or Stark’s The Hunter vs. Point Blank. A man who knows nothing about movies writes these words about a movie he enjoyed.

Cycled yesterday with Jamie through green Concord, in preparation for 2015 in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Ran three miles.

Monday.                   5:55 am.        70˚F

Manic. Dreamt of Paris. Darkness, water, light, birth.

“Your idea of comfort is just the pain you’ve gotten used to,” Joanne snarled at me.

Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does A Man Need?—My father used to say, “How many lobsters does a man need? One to put in his mouth, and the other one to stick up his ass. That’s two lobsters, Johnny. A man needs two lobsters.” A dog can learn a hundred words, a cat can learn about thirty. What is the thirty-first lobster? How many words does a man need?

Won’t run today. Must ice left heel.


Tuesday.                   6:49 am

Ran three miles yesterday. Did not ice foot.

Last night, Seroquel at half nine. Up this morning, wide awake at half three for Ativan. Still couldn’t sleep. Seven-fifteen, dose and a half Abilify.

Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.

David Yow has sent my painting. Come on, man. I feel happy.

I shouldn’t have cut my hair, but now it can’t be helped. Patience.

Reading H. Croly’s Promise of American Life.

“This is what I see and what troubles me. I look around in every direction and all I see is darkness.”—Pascal. But I love the darkness.

Sounds of trucks backing up, interminably.

Shestov’s Tolstoy and Nietzsche, cited in Groys’ Anti-philosophy.

Maile Meloy’s story “Madame Lazarus” in New Yorker 23 June has a surprisingly strong opening paragraph.

Looking forward to Economist report on “Poland’s Golden Age.”


Wednesday.              6:55 am.      73˚F

Slept eight hours for the first time since the conference.

Plan to grill out tonight on red brick terrace, if it doesn’t rain.

Massage yesterday. Lifting weights later this morning.

Dr T’s lack of general knowledge continues to startle me. Earlier this week, he did not know what a golem was. Yesterday he did not know Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs. He did not recognize the connection of mene, mene, tekel, upharsin to the expression handwriting on the wall. What is it that they learn in medical school?

Haydn’s piano sonata no. 23 in F major.

Cheerful geraniums, pencil plant, new side-by-side by Hollander of Paradiso.

Idea. Journey to the West from Boston to Seattle on I-90 and I-94.

Mann in Diary on the respect shown to him that was not wholly meant for him, but for what he was, or represented. A bygone era.

Beethoven’s piano sonata no. 9 in E major, op 14 no 1.

Mozart’s piano sonata no 17 in B flat K 570.

Venice for 40th birthday?Shindig in Venedig.


Thursday.                 4:50 am.        72˚F

Up at 1 am. Came down to the basement for three more hours sleep.

Two coffees and letters to Pierce, Greif, Petrovich, Wood, Baker, Nemser, Mason, Stephan, Klebaum, Parker.

Listening to Sudhir Pandey play tabla.

Emptying the storehouse of my head. If that is where these things are stored.

Bayard translation. Coming right along.

Cross-country trip USA twice, right to left and top to bottom. X marks the spot, you are no longer here.

Colombia w Jamie and Yucatán solo, dates and arrangements.

Kerala early next year, that will have to be January.

My parents want to visit late in August. They can’t stay here.

Passenger. A man who knows nothing about movies. De-centered narratives, Middlemarch, Yeazell on same. The switcheroo from Marion to Norman in Psycho.

Sat 11:30 pm, Thief of Bagdad 1924 silent with Douglas Fairbanks.

Photocopies for Frank and IRS.


Friday.                      3:27 am

Solo drive Badlands, Devils Tower, etc. to Los Angeles, Aug-Sept 2014.

Anthrax’s “Be All, End All.”

Paganini’s partita for solo violin no. 3.

Blind Willie Johnson, “When the war was on.”

Brendel plays Beethoven’s sonata no. 1 in F minor, first movement.

Haydn sym 93, D major.

A much cooler day, overcast, still. Maybe rain later. Birds began singing before dawn.

Bogotá radio 610 am.



Saturday.                  6:45 am

Woke at half five, having slept 7.5 hours soundly.

Dreamt of Sanford’s resurrection. He came back as “Abel Sabeth.”

“Ornithology,” “Now’s The Time,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” “Confirmation,” “Billie’s Bounce.” Intense exposure, repeated listening.

Riffs and progressions for split seven-inch with Andy, Tony, James.


Monday.                   3:58 am.       74˚F and thunderstorms are predicted

Ran two miles.

Coffee with Julia.

Moravia’s Which Tribe Do You Belong To? in Locke’s house in The Passenger.


Thursday.                 7:10 am.        68˚F

La Carinosa, Cartagena 1270 am.

Taxi to Needham Junction c. 1 pm, to meet Russ at his wife’s new juice bar, then come home on the commuter-rail.

Listening to Greatest Salsa Classics of Colombia, vol 1.

Had pozole and enchiladas chicken ranchero with rice and beans at Boca Grande, then watched Coogan and Brydon’s The Trip with Susanna.

Brendel plays Beethoven’s piano concerto no 1 in C major, op 15.


Saturday.                  5:53 am.        63˚F

Summer suit ready for pick-up today at J. Press.

F says, of our book proposal, “This is going to work.” — The transition from “I” to “we.” A real leader says “we.”

Lester Young plays “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”


Sunday.                    6:47 am.       64˚F

No yoga today.

More cuts to, and more bulking of, US-83 proposal with F.

Gave Jamie a copy of TPR 209 for his flight to Purdue.

Middlemarch, again.

Pius Cheung plays Goldberg Variations for marimba.

Black noise-cancelling headphones on. This ache in my left shoulder, this burning pinch. Posture can control it or already does, has generated it, will adapt to it. I am creating it, not in any grandiose theological way, but through attention or inattention, posture, and many small voluntary or habitual actions.

My left ear is ringing.

All this lonely “heroism.” As an attempt to escape from interdependence. But a “self” is generated thru a web or electromagnetic field of relations.


Monday.                   5:23 am.       61˚F

Woke from pain in my neck and shoulder, terrible, familiar. These are symptoms I had twenty years ago. The pain of my head, and of all that is in it. — The doctor asked me, “Have you been in a car accident?” — I said, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember.”

Birds of the morning now begin to call.

Reading Galbraith’s Affluent Society. Ordered his Indian Painting book.

Bought two cognitive-science titles at Harvard Book Store yesterday, We Are Our Minds from Spiegel & Grau and It’s a Jungle in There from Penn UP.

Five red geraniums back in the well. Pencil plant. New desert succulent called sun-catcher.

Ran three miles, stretched, chin-ups.

Largo fr. Bach’s violin concerto in G min BWV 1056.

Horowitz plays Mozart’s piano sonata 13 in B flat, K 333.

Waiting for F’s response to a third revision of our US-83 proposal.


Tuesday.                   7:10 am.        Already it’s 65˚F.

Lunch with Bill at noon today on Comm Ave.

I’ve put in nearly two hours at my desk, revamping this book proposal.

Teeth cleaned Wednesday, before meeting Dr A.

Prism casts spectrum on desk and wall at 7:20, but not at 7:37.

Browsing in, and cannibalizing, my diary. You are my child, I want to eat you. I made you, and I can eat you. Come with me. You belong to me, you are my flesh. I can bite my fingernails, can I not. I do with me as I please.

Listening to adagio from Bach’s toccata in C major, BWV 564.

Drew a route map for F of eight to ten long hauls in USA.


Wednesday.             5:30 am.       72˚F and thunderstorms are expected

Ran two miles. Oatmeal with raisins, strawberries, blueberries, honey, then a small espresso. The Jazz Spectrum on 95.3 fm—Eric Dolphy, then Brubeck’s “Jazz Impressions of New York.”

The new issue of Flaunt has come out, with my essay “I Saw The Number Fifteen On A Dead Man’s Chest.”

Sent a fifth and still v. rough draft of the proposal to F.


Thursday.                 6:38 am.       74˚F

Dream: “junior officer Daniels was basically unharmed.” The enormous automatic shotgun, the female police squad. “You should see the other guy.”

This morning, sixth draft of proposal. Sent.

Meeting with Dr A at quarter after one.

Call dealership, service department, about car’s window problem.

My teeth ached yesterday after cleaning. This morning, not too sore.

Startled to see that I gained two pounds. One double and one single espresso, two glasses of water, a banana, a white peach and a yellow peach.

“I’m Going To Run To The City of Refuge” by Blind Willie Johnson.

Watching footage from Club, the Jesus Lizard tour video.


Friday.                      7:44 am.        63˚F

I have already put in a two-hour shift at my desk, revising the book proposal for F for a tenth time. Only ten thousand more to go. So engrossed by my work was I that I let my coffee grow cold. A new trick.

Began Hofstadter’s Surfaces and Essences yesterday afternoon.

Thai lunch with Parker in three hours. Green onions.

Cut the edge of a nostril shaving. I could smell the iron in my blood.


Saturday.                  6:19 am.        65˚F

I’ve been awake since half past three. Did not take Seroquel last night.

Slow movement from Beethoven’s sixth.

Re-read Cymbeline yesterday.

Skipping rope on the brick terrace. Hot.

Ruthless decluttering: further de-accessioning of excess books.

Beethoven’s piano sonata no 2 in A major op 2 no 2. Lipkin.

Translating Goethe’s poem ‘Urworte. Orphisch’ as best I am able.

Tonight, dinner at Maria’s. Pork tenderloin and spaghetti with bottarga. Her recent Sardinian trip.

Dinner last night with Mike. Steak tips, three ears of corn with butter and salt, grilled asparagus, salad, bread and cheese.

Listening to Handel as I straighten up my office.

Overture to Tannhauser.

Three bags paperbacks & hardbacks, out.

Old copies n+1 and Paris Review to attic.

Analogies are constructed using materials near at hand. Use only the best materials for this task.


Sunday.                    7:16 am.        69˚F and thunderstorms are expected

Organizing 2013 photos of Chaumukha Mandir for David and Judy before I ask them to come with me to Pure Souls, a show of Jain paintings at MFA 09 August.

I slept nine hours straight through the night after half an Abilify, an Ativan before Maria’s party, and a Seroquel at bedtime. Amazing what getting so stoned was able to do in terms of increasing my tolerance for Jackie.

I have not hit a lick on this book proposal since Friday afternoon.

Began reading Paradiso. First two cantos. It’s slow going, for a sinner. As is Eliot’s Middlemarch, a novel “for grown-up people,” since I am not a grown-up person.

Finished Hofstadter’s Surfaces and Essences. There was a lot worth thinking about in his book, but not as much as he thought. Had I been his editor, I would have cut two hundred pages.

Fan e-mail calls my writing “spare and evocative.” If she knew what a Rat Man I am, dragging my bag of dirty treats with which to inundate and overwhelm. Spareness is achieved by carving away. Early drafts are not spare.

V calls, drunk, to praise a recent story of mine. I don’t believe him.

Randhawa and Galbraith’s volume on Indian Painting.

I was aghast to see what the dental hygienist showed me in my mouth, a tooth with its gum receded to the point that the root is nearly exposed. Fear.

Charles Bowden, who is, for the most part, unreadable. And yet.

Out for dinner tonight with Jamie, who is back from having fucked his considerable brains out with an assistant professor at Purdue.


Monday.                   6:59 am.       69˚F and thunderstorms are expected

Yesterday, Old Cambridge Baptist Church.—Topic of sermon was “secretary to the sacred,” Matthew 13:52: “Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” — What God wants us to “write,” if we are not writers, or to write, if we are.—I scrambled for the door after the service, but the preacher blocked my way. They’re onto me, they can smell it on me. The heat. Souls in hell burn.


Tuesday.                   7:38 am.       65˚F

Dream: “I am what I am,” and the truth will out. A beautiful dream. I have not slept so well in more than a month.

Lifted weights, smoked a good cigar (Casa Fernandez of Miami petit robusto), dinner carne asada a la tampiqueña at José’s. Red sauce.

Re-reading dialogues of Settembrini and Naptha in The Magic Mountain.

Re-reading Christoph Türcke’s Philosophy of Dreams. Making notes.

Possible drive from Bismarck through Williston, Billings, Devils Tower, and the South Dakota Badlands.

Flood tide of semi-sewage in my office yesterday after pounding rains. Exterminator confirms recently sighted rats do not nest on our property.

Today and Thursday, meetings with Dr A.

YMCA and lunch with Andy (torta in Medford) tomorrow.

I will not go to Cartagena with Jamie this 22-26 September.

Mozart’s piano concerto no 9 in E flat.


Wednesday.                         8:13 am.       66˚F

Spent the morning answering letters.

My teeth still hurt. That cleaning last Tuesday changed my bite. Used medicinal enamel toothpaste for the first time yesterday before dinner.

Captain Dorner, dying of pancreatic cancer, emailed me last night about my “Letter from Majorca.”

Sore. But YMCA should cure that. Squat, bench, back extension, chins.

Overture from Tannhäuser four times yesterday. Now the Grand March.

Breakthroughs in my thinking yesterday, as I smoked and re-read Türcke’s Philosophy of Dreams, caused me to feel anxious again, as if revisiting post-conference days. Compulsion to repeat.

I took an Ativan and listened to Tannhäuser and to Parsifal. Then an Abilify before dinner with Jamie.


Thursday.                 5:40 am.       65˚F

The end of July. I knew it had to come.

Yesterday, tortas at Tenoch and a good talk with Andy. Finished re-reading Türcke. Now re-reading Hamilton’s Mythology and The Gospel of John.

Dreamt of Carlos Fuentes. I look forward to Christopher Unborn. Happy memories of finishing Destiny and Desire in Mike’s apartment last March.

Began to do homework on Velázquez, before visiting his portrait of Góngora I love so much. But decided not to act as if I were a schoolboy.

Sierra Leone declares Ebola to be a public health emergency.

Rescue workers in western India race to locate survivors of a landslide that has claimed at least 30 lives and buried up to 200 people.

Argentina has defaulted on its debt for the second time in 13 years.

Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnaps the wife of the president of Cameroon.

Boehner and the House have voted to sue Obama.

To Cartagena with Jamie after all?—Two months from now.

Another Casa Fernandez petit robusto after Dr A today.

NBC reports: ‘Libya teeters on the brink of collapse.’ Likewise Foreign Affairs: ‘Libya on the brink.’ The Nation on Ukraine: we’re in the “worst American-Russian crisis since the Cuban missile confrontation.” What is the aim of a headline?—hyperbole, to sell ad space in a newspaper.

Surfing: it takes place on the surface. A false etymology? Likewise diving shares no root with divine. Depth psychology. SCUBA certification in Rhode Island: make inquiries. “I can swim,” howls David Yow. Comfortable in the water. There is no depth, it’s surface all the way down. The inside and the outside are the same side. The mask is the face. There’s nothing underwater, other than more water.Once you’re in the water, it’s all water.

Real loss of interest in book proposal. I’ll come back to it.

B has gotten himself arrested.

Democracy Now! en español. Typed first demon-cracy, then demo-crazy.

Last night while grilling sausages and zucchinis, a thrilling fantasy of power and freedom: no longer a writer, simply a man.





An immense temptation to pretty all this up, complexifying it.

And I, and I.—Dear diary, I did my homework and went to bed.

Maybe the writing we do for ourselves alone (or “alone”) is the most fictional of all. You can’t read other people’s minds: what makes you think you can read your own?

2014. The classic breakdown ages are nineteen and forty. Now I had a pair, like silver candlesticks. But I could still write down times and temperatures, names of friends, titles of books, music I listened to, and what I ate, which is not nothing.

The words sanity and insanity are like the words flammable and inflammable: their meanings are the same.

In the end, I did fly to Colombia with Jamie. And what did I see in Cartagena? A man beat another man with a chair until the chair broke into pieces. Then he beat him with the broken pieces of the chair.


J. D. Daniels is the winner of a 2016 Whiting Award and The Paris Review’s 2013 Terry Southern Prize. His collection The Correspondence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) was published in 2017. His writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Esquire, n+1, Oxford American, Los Angeles Review of Books and elsewhere, including The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing.