9 January 2023

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This is the olive tree in our garden: surviving, but not thriving. I expected much more of it by now. I bought it fifteen years ago when living with an ex-girlfriend. At the time it seemed symbolic — if the tree survived, then so would the relationship. Instead the relationship ended and the tree lived on. But it has never flourished. A while ago it developed a yellowish spotty rash on its leaves. I looked it up — nitrogen deficiency, apparently. I could have fed it with some special compost, but I just left it and it’s pulled through well enough. I read an essay called Art Lessons’ written by a father for his daughter. He wrote it when she was an adult, although he had promised it to her when she was a child. In the essay he includes pictures and explains to her why the pictures show what I notice when I notice picture-like scenes’. He lives alongside an olive grove and says of olive trees: No tree is identical, yet all start as trunks which bifurcate and then bifurcate again into twigs and finally leaves. In some ways the structure of the twig is the same as the structure of the whole tree. A picture of olive trees which notes every leaf can be wonderful, but every leaf is not the only thing to notice.’

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Reading notes: Coetzee’s Diary of a bad year J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year occasionally pulls off a trick that sounds simple, even unlikely, but when it succeeds it makes your head spin.