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February 12, 2007

TT: Once removed

I stay in close touch with current events, mostly by way of my trusty iBook. The editors of The Wall Street Journal expect me to be both aware of what’s going on in the world of art and ready to write about it on short notice. For the most part I revel in this requirement, but sometimes it becomes a burden. The world was too much with me a week and a half ago, and I knew I had to let go of it for a few days.

Experience has taught me that this is all but impossible for me to do without getting out of town, so last Tuesday I packed a bag, rented a Zipcar, and headed south to Cape May, the island at the southern tip of New Jersey where I spent a reflective holiday last year. I brought along a half-dozen books, a short stack of DVDs, and some traveling music. It takes three hours to drive from Manhattan to Cape May, and I spent them listening to Blind Blake, Nat Cole, Hot Club of Cowtown, Mitchell’s Christian Singers, and Jimmy Yancey, about none of whom I had any plans to write a piece.

In case you’re wondering, I left my laptop behind. I made a point of warning my editors at the Journal that I wouldn’t be bringing it along, and while I’ve been known to cheat on such promises, I followed through on this one. I was out of touch with the world from Tuesday morning to Friday afternoon. I sent no e-mail and wrote no pieces, and the only person I called was my mother. I learned of the arrest of Lisa Nowak because I happened to be sitting in a Cape May bar whose TV was tuned to a NASA press conference, but that was the only piece of news I heard.

Instead of immersing myself in the fast-moving stream of postmodern life, I drove around Cape May and looked at old houses, ate three good dinners, spent several happy hours reading Bleak House, James Gould Cozzens’ By Love Possessed, and a book about Aaron Copland, and watched a couple of sunsets. Having found out in middle age that I love to be beside the seaside, I spent as much time as possible gazing at the ocean, which was conveniently located across the street from my front door.

Did I manage to keep my mind off my work? Mostly. I watched The Best Years of Our Lives and promptly started writing a piece in my head about Hugo Friedhofer’s Copland-like score, but at length I forced myself to shut off the flow of words and attend solely to the immediate experience. From time to time I thought of the deadlines that awaited me in New York, though not too often to wreck my holiday. Somewhere along the way I recalled the epigraph by Henri de Régnier that Maurice Ravel affixed to his Valses nobles et sentimentales: “…the delicious and always new pleasure of a useless occupation.” In recent weeks too many of my occupations have been useful, and it was good to be reminded that such need not always be the case.

Friday morning came too soon, and I drove back up the Garden State Parkway to New York, stopping along the way to eat a pair of rippers at Rutt’s Hut. I turned on my dormant iBook as soon as I got back to my apartment and found 278 e-mails waiting for me, one of which made my heart sink. It was from the anonymous author of a wonderful new blog I recently discovered:

Unfortunately, a mean-spirited blogger amused herself (and only herself) by revealing the place of my employment and posting a photo of it. Someone at my workplace was notified of this. Obviously, the intention of my anonymity was to preserve my job.

Since the blogger has ignored all of my E-mails, I'm left with no choice but to remove The Hotel Pianist blog….If you have linked to my blog, please delete the link as there is no longer a blog!

Sighing for the umpteenth time at the ceaseless folly of the inconsiderate, I turned to the news I’d missed since Tuesday, and discovered that Jules Olitski, the abstract artist whom I added to the Teachout Museum two years ago, had died at the venerable age of eighty-four. I also learned of the unexpected demise of Anna Nicole Smith, though I can’t claim to have been moved by it, not having previously known anything about her beyond the mere fact of her fame. (I still don’t know why she was famous.)

Within an hour or so I was back up to speed, and on Saturday I saw a press preview of The Madras House and started writing Friday’s Wall Street Journal drama column. I was glad to be back in harness, though my mind kept wandering back to Cape May, and to the delicious and always new pleasure of doing nothing in particular. I suppose even that would eventually grow tiresome—everything does—but I doubt I’ll ever find out how long it would take.

Posted February 12, 2007 12:00 PM

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