​​​​​Journal Excerpts

September 2001 - June 2002

Lydia Davis






    Old folks could at least sort the cranberries.


    Early morning – noise of crows and dogs.


    If one was born under a cabbage leaf - 


    minus habens : lit. 'having less' = a dunce


    If I stay still (for a long time in one place) then what

moves is the sunlight coming through the shutters.

    “Morning Beverage Habits of My Friends” (a survey).

Let it get more complex as it goes – let their reasoning

enter in.

    The old dictionary bothers the dictionary next to it.

    The old dictionary is a bother to the other dictionary

next to it. It leaves a litter of yellow bits of paper that

have to be cleaned up.


    E.'s ambition: to have all his books in one room.


    Acknowledgment to Matthew S. for his use of “then.”

    : to Ann L. for her use of “place.”




    Father would often stop – break off – what he was saying for one reason or another, either because we weren't listening, or one had yawned, or his own emotions prevented him from going on. This is called (in rhetoric) aposiopesis.


    Putting away for the winter a sandal with a squashed spider on its sole.


    Gravity takes the wrinkles out of my dress hanging in the closet.


    You visit a village not once but twice, in a dream, and then it feels not part of a dream but real.


    Maid, summoned by old woman, walks into room singing, “Why should I be discouraged?” (hymn).


    what I am feeling in my heart


    Peter and Mother 

                        (J. Ashbery)


    “there is a rightness in that strangeness” 

                        (J. Ashbery)


    Mother's response when I say I have memorized Frost's “Stopping by a Snowy Woods One Evening”: 

    “That's the one everyone knows – why don't you learn 'Spring Foals' – that's a serious one.”


    I think of my two hands (when they are working cooperatively together sorting tomatoes) as the Levy Brothers.


    That day what excited her and made her happy was a stout accordion player from Quebec playing one of the accordions in the uptown pawn shop.

    In the pawn shop uptown, a stout man from Quebec was playing one of the accordions. That was what excited her and made her happy that day.


    The water there is glacier melt so it's very very blue.


    Personal ad: “A newly-promoted dance professor is looking for etc.”



    “in the circumstances” - for situation

    “under the circumstances” - for action 




    An amoeba retreating from a noxious stimulus


    The “god-shaped hole” in our culture


    Fundamentalism arises in response to threat to belief systems by modernization.


    Mother's adamant view that no one should ever have to catch a cold – 


    John Evelyn's Elysium Britannicum, or the Royal Gardens – his life's work, massive, unfinished, fifty years in the writing. He meanwhile wrote and published other works.


    Apropos Evelyn: advances in science provoke the contrary desire to be perplexed, entranced, and deceived.

    (Related to fundamentalists' reaction to Westernization.)


    “Pittsfield Small Engine Repair” (modesty of that)


    Evelyn wrote long corrections on separate pieces of paper (like Proust).


    “Wist ye not that I must be about my father's business?”  Wist.


    That “Davies” is somehow a better and more thorough version of my name, “Davis.” The long e and the voiced s. The second vowel sound is long and the final consonant voiced. An improved name. (This observation apropos of my being addressed thus by an English woman – from Penguin.)




    “My three cats are amongst them...”

    “Pets know – and my three cats are amongst them -”

    (“Thought-reader” on television wearing glittery vest.)


    We can be wasteful of affection and beauty, too.


    A hot danger that turned the prairie black.

                            (def. in child's history crossword book)


    The early settlers were often irritated by the hardships of their life.

    The hardships of the lives of the early settlers were often irritating to them.

                    (somewhere in grammar book – variations on sentences)


    for “oatmeal”:

        haute meal

        ode to meal


    “most archaeological animal bones come from the limbs and feet”

                (Simon Davis in The RBS Gazette)

    why, exactly?


    “not blood kin”

                (Vi says)


    Again, the question – 'Can't they return now?'  As though they had stayed away as long as I was really busy, out of consideration or tact, but now they could return.      (the dead)


    “I'm not someone who has never lied. Lying is a big problem.”         (did L.T. say this?)


    Still want to do study of the comma, overuse and underuse and what it means.




    As a high school student, Mother used to go do her schoolwork at the Carnegie Library in Iowa City – marble in the building.


    Buses please depart slowly


    That ice cream truck yesterday – Swann's – and the driver coming to the back door and saying “Swann's” on the very day I finally sent off the intro and considered the title one more time, including the dangling word “Swann's”.


    Don't touch till Friday.

    Some women may arrive to clean your house.


    Watch the t's in “Brittany” and the n's in “Pyrennees”.


    numinous, hieratic, laisse            (words)


    Men of the eleventh century displayed their feelings more openly than men do today.


    Good transition: bring B into the discussion about A, then, in the next paragraph, move on to discuss B.




    That inferior-superior problem. If you're not superior, you're inferior. Never just equal.


    Haywood G. Bazaff


    He left to go write.




    Sun and air

    Son and heir


    “angry stock-trading father soon to commit suicide...”


    He drives me to the bus before dawn; he notices the color of a single red sprinkle on a brown cookie.

    He buys me a green scarf, a red scarf, a flower-patterned scarf. He orders me a magnetic wristband.


    A teabag – a cup of tea – like old fish.


    Malcolm Lowry's Lunar Caustic; Lowell's “Walking in the Blue: and “Hospital”

                                        (M. Hofmann rec.)


    Ending of some story about father would be the Elysian fields and then the report of the clairvoyant who says that he “passed over” right away though my sister was so stubborn and wouldn't hear of it.


    Metaphor – problem of – metaphors permeate language more than one would realize – hiding in “abstract” vocabulary, misused in writing – it is the ignorance of the word that leads to mixed metaphors and the impression of sloppy writing.

    This would be a good “talk” to give when visiting.

    Talks: 1) metaphor (etymology); 2) Proust translation; 3) Tyndale; 4) Moncrieff; 5) writing and Sherlock Holmes


    prunelle: pupil (apple) of eye; sloe

    sloe gin


    metaphor is everywhere – earliest explanations would be in terms of “like” - a lamb white as snow or snow white as a lamb

    make sentence of abstract words and 'translate' it into a sentence made up of broken-down component parts – use those two old books - 

    how sentences don't fit if the deeper (buried) metaphors are ignored - 


    further is the comparative of forth!


    M. p. 121 (middle): “in the kiss of her who is by our side”


    Hudson, Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse. Train for Toronto. Buffalo Toronto


    “Pick me up a medium-size rat.” [mumble from phone] “Before you pick me up pick me up a medium-size rat.”

                    [overheard on train: example apropos of not explaining]


    Like the problem of the pronunciation of the word “February” - either too obviously wrong or too obviously correct -


    Motel rooms fully equipped with pencil sharpeners...


    The smell of something going by, down the aisle, with fake butter on it.


    Pretty, restored station at Utica.


    Rome station in disrepair.







    “...The darling shout of the song sparrow.”

                (quoted by R. Moody from Oscar Laighton)


    “...Wonderful how space and depth of soil enough was cover the dead.”

                (quoted by R. Moody from N. Hawthorne)


    “The genealogists with...their insect repellent...”    (R.Moody)


    “...bad fences and breachy cattle...”

                (quoted by R. Moody)


    International: driven (from airport) by Swede married to Frenchwoman. Old ranch restored by family of Finns. Indian Christmas tree ornament made in Poland. 

                                    (in Santa Fe)


    “...Proposing to be their mouth in prayer...”

                (quoted by R. Moody)


    The energy-in-Texas man last night whose wife has begun an organization to save barns in Iowa.


    “If you tell him a tale, he cries at last, 'What said you?'”

    “He doth not attend what is said, if you tell him a tale, he cries at last, 'What said you?'”

    “He will dress himself, and undress, careless at last...”

                (quoted by R. Moody)


    A man in a navy blue Bread Loaf School of English sweatshirt is earnestly correcting student papers in the Albuquerque airport.


    (The idea of incorporating strangers into a published work, strangers who might later read it and recognize themselves—as possibly that man in the Bread Loaf sweatshirt: That was me!)


    “And endeavor to make it useful to the olive plants about the table...”

    “...To tell some entertaining tale before he rose; and endeavor to make it useful to the olive plants about the table...”

                (Samuel Mather, quoted by R.M.)


    “We would be again cajoled into eating wax beans...”


    “Who can blame us if at dusk we were disinclined to go back indoors and to sit quietly at the table where we would be again cajoled into eating wax beans?”


    Check the ending: “Excuse me.”


    “I showed the umbra.”

                (Joseph Moody, quoted by R.M.)


    Lesson: library, lending library, public library, rental library, subscription library -


    The idea that the “story” is always open at both ends, not closed off, part of a larger continuum -


    There was also, in the restaurant, the cushion that did not quite reach, that was shared with a stranger, so that you could not move away from him.


    So that maybe you always have to exaggerate, reach for an exaggeration, hysteria, or force – just the opposite of that pale disappearing sandwich I drew in art class.  Good drawing, said the instructor, but so small, so faint...


    With his binoculars he can usually see two of the moons of Jupiter. (P.L.?)


    (In Lesson, include biographical references (in the sentences) to all sorts of people I know. As the above, to P.L. As Bill T: “I was born in Egypt. I am a U.S. citizen. I went to Oxford University.”)


    It is just a day of skiing, but you enter a culture of Sunday. (Around you – brunch, opera, the Sunday paper, extended seated conversation.)                 (in ski lodge)


    The “Three plenties.”





    Plow up garden and work in manure when lilac is in bloom.

                                            (from Berger)


    When the first soft warm evening in spring brings out the smell of lawn pesticide in the neighborhoods. (Little white signs in the darkness.)


    Midway between Easter and Whitsuntide many worshipers of the perfect lawn would apply poison to their grass.


    The flickering blue lights of the televisions. If the lights in two adjacent houses flickered in the same pattern, you knew the people inside were watching the same program – they were sharing something in their culture.


    Some festivals today are the same, or nearly. Then there are new festivals, such as National Poetry Month, and commercial festivals, such as the one begun by a large chain supermarket which is celebrating Frozen Food Month. (And, recently, National Pretzel Day)


    Care must be taken not to overestimate its value. Care must also be taken, of course, not to underestimate its value.


    Dave Barry humor – several expected comments (lulling the reader) followed by an outrageous one.


    At this time, in April, no flowers have been brought to the grandmothers.


    “Goodbye” is a more Christian leave-taking than “Farewell.”





    “[Benjamin Franklin's] simple dress and lack of a wig made a great impression in intellectual circles.”


    Can tell their size by their armor...


    Three youths who had been pickled by an innkeeper during a famine. (Painting by Bicci di Lorenzo 1373-1452)

    pickled by an innkeeper


    Limestone is formed from the skeletons of marine invertebrates. Chalk, a variety of limestone, is composed of the shells of minute animals called foraminifera.


    Stachys lanata is called lamb's ears, woolly betony, and Saviour's flannel.


    Is that a piece of burst tire in the road, or a giant cricket?


    Aging Robert with his soaked figs.


    washing machine: mónthly tótal,

                    mónthly tótal


    The irises outside Shop-Rite look better than mine. As do the irises by Self-Storage.


    H.'s “salad” was a sweetish tomato aspic jello mold with grated carrots in it.





    Would like to do a piece on chickens and eggs. Simply try to find out where all the eggs in the area's grocery stores come from and in what conditions the hens live. (True, this article would make people uncomfortable.)   


    The anguille is a catadromous eel – its reproduction and early life take place in the sea, but growth to adult size takes place in fresh water. Eels can take 10 to 40 years (!) to grow to adult size. Seaweed-strewn Sargasso Sea. Spawning takes place in the deepest region of floating seaweed (abt. 400 meters deep). Eels used to be an attractive food for working people –not so now, in England and America. Catching eels (umbrella)

    Consider the Eel, Richard Schweid. North Carolina U. Press.


    An early road.     (from sign)


    Different kinds of work in different frames of mind or physical conditions. (Interesting ideas can come when you're tired, though you make mistakes then.)


    To enjoy small pleasures – air on skin, cool air in early morning


    A pitiless, merciless talk about translating Proust.


    H.'s tile with a drawing on it of the front hall of a cottage home with a ladder-back or Windsor chair and the statement on it: “GOD OFTEN HAS A GREAT SHARE IN A LITTLE HOUSE.” 


    (Large effort in U.S. foreign relations should be towards training in understanding of different cultures and in diplomacy and negotiation, rather than development of military forces and arms.)


    A serious farmer would be photographed (in earlier times), with a serious expression on his face, holding a good calf, and again holding his team of horses.


    Another spelling problem: the surname of the poet Robert Hass, which is often spelled Haas, like the Easter egg dye kit company.


    Always trying to budge my preconceived notions.


    Want land up high?


    Man coughs every minute, on average, and not quietly. Will cough 60 times/hour, about 220 times on trip.                                 (noted on bus to Boston)


    Laws: that we can keep livestock; that we can hang out our clothes – i.e. basic right to live sustainably.


    Invent terms, phrases – if you give an idea a name, maybe you help it come to life.


    What can I do with all my reforming zeal and all my ideas? (Experimental old folks' home, for instance; integrated medical/healing practice.) Find philanthropist.




Lydia Davis is author of the novel The End of the Story (1994) and many collections of fiction, including The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976) and Break It Down (1986), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her most recent collections were Varieties of Disturbance, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007, and Can't and Won't (2013). The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009) contains all her short fiction up to 2008. Essays One was published in 2019. and Essays Two is forthcoming in 2021. She is the recipient of many awards and prizes, most recently the PEN/Malamud Award in 2020. Lydia Davis has also translated Proust, Flaubert, Blanchot, Foucault, Michel Butor, Michel Leiris, Pierre Jean Jouve and other French writers, as well as Belgian novelist Conrad Detrez and the Dutch writer A.L. Snijders.

Image: Jupiter's magnetic fields, Moore et al., Nature 2018