Tuesday, December 14, 2010

he had to fight within himself.

"Joey recognized in this accumulation a superstition he had to fight within himself--the believe that everything has value. The birds in the trees, the sunflower at the edge of the orchard, the clumsily pasted-up valentine received years ago from a distant grandchild--all have a worth which might, at any moment, be called into account. It was a way of advertising that one's own life was infinitely precious."

--John Updike, p. 115 in The Afterlife short story anthology

Friday, November 26, 2010

"I cannot count the times I cursed our lack of urgency.  If I ever love again, I will not wait to love as best I can.  We thought we were young and there would be time to love well sometime in the future.  This is a terrible way to think.  It is no way to live, to wait to love."

-from What is the What, by Dave Eggers

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"I guess what I find totally fascinating is that we are all made up, not just internally, but externally, of every person we have ever cared about, and ever met."

-Mark Bridges, blog post.

We don't fear death, and neither should you.

"But the last thing I want to do tonight is depress you. So I have thought of something we can all do tonight which will be definitely upbeat. I think we can come up with a statement on which all Americans, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, straight or gay, can agree, despite our country's being so tragically and ferociously divided.

The first universal American sentiment I came up with was "Sugar is sweet."

And there is certainly nothing new about a tragically and ferociously divided United States of America, and especially here in my native state of Indiana. When I was a kid here, this state had within its borders the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, and the site of the last lynching of an African- American citizen north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Marion, I think.

I asked Mark a while back what life was all about, since I didn't have a clue. He said, "Dad, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." Whatever it is.

"Whatever it is." Not bad. That one could be a keeper.

And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don't already have one.

I myself just got a dog, and it's a new crossbreed. It's half French poodle and half Chinese shih tzu.

It's a shit-poo.

And I thank you for your attention, and I'm out of here."

--Kurt Vonnegut from his last speech, written for delivery at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everything we did started with love, and ended with lust--

"Right after Cleveland and the ivy we made all the kids memorize poetry again. We hadn't memorized ay growing up--this was the seventies and eighties, and people hadn't taught that for years-- and we really found we missed it. The girls were fine with the idea, and the boys caught on when they realized it would help them get older women into bed. Around that time we banned wearing fur outside of arctic regions, flooded the market with diamonds and gold and silver to the point where non had any value, fixed the ozone hole--I could show you that; we've got it on video--and then we did the thing with the llamas. What are you doing? Sour cream in the salsa? No, no. That's just wrong, sweetie. My god.

So yeah, we put llamas everywhere. That was us. We just liked looking at them, so we bred about six million and spread them around. They weren't there before, honey. No, they weren't. Oh man, there's one now, in the backyard. Isn't it a handsome thing? Now they're as common as squirrels or deer, and you have your mom and pop to thank for that."

-- excerpt from Dave Eggers' short story, "Your Mother and I"

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Whether or not beautiful is good, beauty seems to bring out goodness in others.  In one psychologist's study, seventy-five college men were shown photographs of women, some of whom were very attractive and others less so.  They were asked to select the person they would be most likely do the following for: help her move furniture, loan money, donate blood, donate a kidney, swim one mile to rescue her, save her from a burning building, and even jump on a terrorist hand grenade.  The men were most likely to volunteer for any of these altruistic and risky acts for a beautiful woman.  The only thing they seemed reluctant to do for her was loan her money."

from Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Site of Memory

I have always thought that as an editor for twenty years I understood writers better than their most careful critics, because in examining the manuscript in each of its subsequent stages I knew the author's process, how his or her mind worked, what was effortless, what took time, where the "solution" to the problem came from. The end result-the book-was all that the critic had to go on.
Still, for me, that was the least important aspect of the work. Because, no matter how "fictional" the account of these writers, or how much it was a product of invention, the act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory-what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our "flooding."

-excerpt from Site of Memory, Toni Morrison

Monday, September 6, 2010

This is a story, I suppose, about a failure in intelligence: the Rawlings' marriage was grounded in intelligence.

"So here was this couple, testing their marriage, looking after it, treating it like a small boat full of helpless people in a very stormy sea. Well, of course, so it was... The storms of the world were bad, but not too close--which is not to say they were selfishly felt: Susan and Matthew were both well- informed and responsible people. And the inner storms and quicksands were understood and charted. So everything was all right. Everything was in order. Yes, things were under control."

--excerpt from Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Shall Know Our Velocity

Love is implicit in every connection.  It should be.  Thus when absent it makes us insane. It breaks our equilibrium and we have to flounder for reasons.  When we pass by another person without telling them we love them it's cruel and wrong and we all know this.  We live in a constant state of denial and imbalance.

Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity

Monday, August 23, 2010

Which would you rather smell?

"The night was clear and his head felt as clear and cold as the air. He smelled the odor of the pine boughs under him, the piney smell of the crushed needles and the sharper odor of the resinous sap from the cut limbs. Pilar, he thought. Pilar and the smell of death. This is the smell I love. This and fresh-cut clover, the crushed sage as you ride after cattle, wood-smoke and the burning leaves of autumn. That must be the odor of nostalgia, the smell of the smoke from the piles of raked leaves burning in the streets in the fall in Missoula. Which would you rather smell? Sweet grass the Indians used in their baskets? Smoked leather? The odor of the ground in the spring after rain? The smell of the sea as you walk through the gorse on a headland in Galicia? Or the wind from the land as you come in toward Cuba in the dark? That was the odor of the cactus flowers, mimosa and the seagrape shrubs. Or would you rather smell frying bacon in the morning when you are hungry? Or coffee in the morning? Or a Jonathan apple as you bit into it? Or a cider mill in the grinding, or bread fresh from the oven? You must be hungry, he thought, and he lay on his side and watched the entrance of the cave in the light that the stars reflected from the snow."

-Ernest Hemingway, passage from "For Whom the Bell Tolls" p. 260

the straightforward mermaid

The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with "Look..." This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks. She wants to get points 1, 2, and 3 across, doesn't want to disappear like a river into the ocean. When she's feeling despairing, she goes to eddies at the mouth of the river and tries to comb the water apart with her fingers. The straightforward mermaid has already said to five sailors, "Look, I don't think this is going to work," before sinking like a sullen stone. She's supposed to teach Rock Impersonation to the younger mermaids, but every beach field trip devolves to them trying to find shells to match their scales. They really love braiding. "Look," says the straightforward mermaid. "Your high ponytails make you look like fountains, not rocks." Sometimes she feels like a third gender--preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing. At least she's all mermaid: she never gets tired of swimming, hates the thought of socks.

-Matthea Harvey, as seen in the New Yorker

Sunday, August 22, 2010

do the
of the lit
tle once beau
tiful la
dy (sitting sew
ing at an o
pen window this
fine morning) fly
instead of dancing
are they possibly
afraid that life is
running away from
then (i wonder) or
isn't she a
ware that life (who
never grows old)
is always beau
tiful and
that nobod
y beauti
ful ev
er hur

e.e. cummings.  I am obsessed with him right now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

barefoot and wet and salty.

"Yet wide as it was, it was still his beach and at the center of the circles in which his mind revolved when he remembered the best of boyhood. But how much time could a man spend remembering the best of his boyhood? What about enjoying the best of old age? Or was the best of old age just that--the longing for the best of boyhood, for the tubular sprout that was then his body and that rode the waves from way out where they began to build, rode them with his arms pointed like an arrowhead and the skinny rest of him following behind like the arrow's shaft, rode them all the way in to where his rib cage scraped against the tiny sharp pebbles and jagged clamshells and pulverized seashells at the edge of the shore and he hustled to his feet and hurriedly turned and went lurching through the low surf until it was knee high and deep enough for him to plunge in and begin swimming madly out to the rising breakers--into the advancing, green Atlantic, rolling unstoppably toward him like the obstinate fact of the future--and, if he was lucky, make it there in time to catch the next big wave and then the next and the next and the next until from the low slant of inland sunlight glittering across the water he knew it was time to go. He ran home barefoot and wet and salty, remembering the mightiness of that immense sea boiling in his own two ears and licking his forearm to taste his skin fresh from the ocean and baked by the sun. Along with the ecstasy of a whole day of being battered silly by the sea, the taste and the smell intoxicated him so that he was driven to the brink of biting down with his teeth to tear out a chunk of himself and savor his fleshy existence."

- passage from "Everyman" by Philip Roth, Vintage International p. 126-7

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Ocean Moving All Night

Stay with us. Don't sink to the bottom
like a fish going to sleep.
Be with the ocean moving steadily all night,
not scattered like a rainstorm.

The spring we're looking for
is somewhere in this murkiness.
See the night-lights up there traveling together,
the candle awake in its gold dish.

Don't slide into the cracks of ground like spilled mercury.
When the full moon comes out, look around.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Soul and Body

"It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother's womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two from a basic situation. Tomas was born of the saying, 'Einmal ist keinmal.' Tereza was born of the rumbling of a stomach.

The first time she went to Tomas's flat, her insides began to rumble. And no wonder: she had had nothing to eat since breakfast but a quick sandwich on the platform before boarding the train. She had concentrated on the daring journey ahead of her and forgotten about food. But when we ignore the body, we are more easily victimized by it. She felt terrible standing there in front of Tomas listening to her belly speak out. She felt like crying. Fortunately, after the first ten seconds Tomas put his arms around her and made her forget her ventral voices."

-Milan Kundera, p. 39 "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Be free, dear graduate. That's what my advice is:
And if it's trouble for which you hunger,
Don't wait for midlife to have your crisis.
It's better to do it when you're younger.
Don't wait until you're older and at the pinnacle
And people fawn over you and hail your
So-called achievements. Not to be cynical,
But youth is the best time for a big bold failure.
You won't learn this from reading Plato or Socrates:
But rather than average, why not go for Really Really Bad?
Better to be a fool than one of the mediocrities.
And a major failure can bring you closer to your dad.
Fritter away your dough. Don't plan, don't build.
He's waiting. That fatted calf needs to be killed.

-Garrison Keillor, from his recently published book "77 Love Sonnets".

It is time to share between us the words we find beautiful, those which grasp at some deeper part of ourselves, time to share the delicious slice of cake between us all.