Commonplace Book

Stoppard on fiddling

At a Tom Stoppard Q&A session at Duke University, a professor noted that Stoppard has said he can’t resist “fiddling” with a play when it’s being revived or restaged. The prof asked what constitutes “fiddling” and how much of it did he do?

Stoppard replied, “How much fiddling I do depends on how much of Rome is burning at the time.”

-from rescued notes made in the 1990s

"A sort of lovely tension"

“It’s fantastically exciting to discover something that’s been lost all this time, but I do think it is also worth simultaneously holding the thought that actually, the only reason these fragments have survived is because at some point, someone thought the manuscripts in which they appeared were not valuable as anything other than waste. There’s a sort of lovely tension in that, I think.”

Source: Fragment of lost 12th-century epic poem found in another book’s binding | Books | The Guardian

Note: One of the interesting curiosities of history is that most paper has survived by accident. And for all the benefits that digitizing old manuscripts has brought us, there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hands-on examination of the artifact.

Ostentatio genitalium

Ostentatio genitalium (the display of the genitals) refers to disparate traditions in Renaissance visual culture of attributing formal, thematic, and theological significance to the penis of Jesus. That these images seem to have been created in good faith, with pious intentions, mystifies art historians, and many refuse to recognize the category as noteworthy or distinct from the nudity of angels and putti. Yet, as examples accrue, the conspicuous attention lent to Christ’s phallus cannot escape even the most disinterested gaze.

Source: Ostentatio Genitalium in Renaissance Art – The Public Domain Review

Today’s Pome was too good not to share:

Pattern

Your dress waving in the wind.
This
is the only flag I love.

Garous Abdolmalekian
trans. Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh (2020)

"We have so little time for the mending we must do"

My heart was broken recently and I keep the pieces on the back step in a bucket. A heart can mend but unlike the liver it cannot regenerate. A heart mends but the break line is always visible. Humans are not axolotels; axolotels grow new limbs. A broken heart will mend in time, but one of the contradictions of being human is that we have so little time for the mending we must do. It takes years to know anything, years to achieve anything, years to learn how to love, years to learn how to let love go when it has worn out, years to find that loneliness is the name for the intense secret you can’t share. Years to share what you can share. Years to be hurt. Years to heal.

Jeannette Winterson

"And they cannot stay"

In downsizing my paper files, I’ve run across pages I’ve saved from various writing classes I’ve taken over the years.

Liz and I took a class at the late, lamented Duke Continuing Education program called “A Passel of Vignettes,” taught by Sharlene Baker, a wonderful writer and teacher.

In the class happened to be a distant cousin of mine, Tim Brown. He wrote a vignette titled “Everything Quiet Like a Church,” about a conversation on a city bus between a young man and an 80+ year old woman. At the end of the scene, he asks if her husband is still with her.

Here’s the last paragraph:

“I’m alone mostly,” she replied. “My husband passed on nine years ago.” She raised her head a little and looked out the window as we rode through the tree-lined street, houses with big yards. The bus was practically empty by now and I felt I was drawn inside her for a moment. All the distractions disappeared and I experienced her silent center. She smiled a grateful smile, and said, “These people we love, who make our lives what they are – they come live with us, love us, change our very chemistry. And they cannot stay.”

Haunted art

From an old notebook I found, from a News & Observer article on a portrait that had slipped out of the NC Museum of Art’s hands and was returned after 30 years.

“No work of art is ever what it seems, at least at first glance,” said John Coffey, the museum’s deputy art director. “All good pictures are haunted.”

Alan Moore on who will never be elected

I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor.

Alan Moore

"Probably not for the last time"

She opened her eyes. She was on her knees in a sea of weeds: in love with every drop and twig of the universe. Born again, probably not for the last time.

From the novel Cobalt Blue by Peggy Payne

"Hope is like honey"

A passage from the actor Terence Stamp’s memoir, Rare Stamps. There are the usual ups and downs of an actor’s life – from being celebrated when he first appeared onscreen, he was broke by 1984 – funny backstage moments, and lots of soul-searching as he travels to India trying to find the answer “out there.” The answers he finds seem to be the answers that are always there.

What can I tell you that I haven’t already told you? Only the essence of what artists finer than myself shared with me.

Engage in what life presents. It has its own reasons. Maybe it isn’t what you’ve hoped for, but hope is like honey. Don’t indulge in it. Just eat it when it’s on your spoon.

Be present and notice when you’re not. This being present and knowing when you’re present usually has its roots in a heightened state of work. Allow it to flow over into your life—anytime. It is the cog that only appears to turn; yet its radiant presence is the foundation for all the atoms in what we call our body.

Aim high; life will support you: It is resonating in your own heart. Have faith in it; be courageous.

Disregard your doubtful thoughts. As William Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Let doubts pass like clouds in the sky.

Sunday's Readwise quotes

The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky

Emotions are never a statement about the world around us. They are always a statement about our momentary perspective on life. Emotions are a quality-control device that measures the quality of our thinking. They tell us whether or not we are viewing life dispassionately—and how sound our judgment is. When we experience black emotions like anger and despair, we know that we are taking things too personally and have lost touch with the big picture. When our feelings are positive and light we know we are viewing life with more wisdom and perspective. (Location 883)


The Underground Guide to Success

The Theory of Action as defined by me states that if something is moving, you are getting closer to your goals. This means your mouth is moving while you call prospective employers or clients, your feet are moving as you walk to an appointment you set up, your eyes are moving as you read a book to improve your skills, your fingers are moving as they type up a business plan you will present to investors to attract new capital to a business, your feet are moving as you exercise to lose weight. The corollary to The Theory of Action is equally as important. If something isn’t moving, you probably are not getting closer to your goals. (Location 3,398)


The Arnold Bennett Calendar by Arnold Bennett

A talent never persuades or encourages the owner of it; it drives him with a whip. (Location 1,080)


An Ignorant Highbrow via openlettersmonthly.com

So is that what architectural sophistication means – knowing what buildings you’re supposed to like and not like, according to people who know a lot more about the subject than you ever will? I hope not. Architecture merits close study, even if amateurs like me sometimes get it wrong and miss the finer points, for the reasons that all culture merits close study: to take nothing for granted, to resist complacency, to notice things, to be more awake, to be more alive. Close study of skateboarding may well provide the same advantages; I really couldn’t say. Maybe what matters as much as the things we love is the quality of attention we bring to the things we love.


How To Write The Great American Novel by Jim Behrle

And the only thing that’s interesting about most writers is just the tap tap tap of keys. Otherwise they’re just as boring as the rest of us.

Today's Readwise quotes

The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky

Michael. We wouldn’t have lasted ten years if our marriage hadn’t turned around. We went to a marriage counselor who knew what he was doing. He helped us to straighten things out. Interviewer. What did he tell you? Michael. He suggested we stop trying to analyze and “work on” the relationship and concentrate on enjoying each other. (Location 2,294)

A Weapon for Readers by Tim Parks

But if writers are to entice us into their vision, let us make them work for it. Let us resist enchantment for a while, or at least for long enough to have some idea of what we are being drawn into. For the mindless, passive acceptance of other people’s representations of the world can only enchain us and hamper our personal growth, hamper the possibility of positive action. Sometimes it seems the whole of society languishes in the stupor of the fictions it has swallowed. Wasn’t this what Cervantes was complaining about when he began Don Quixote? Better to read a poor book with alert resistance, than devour a good one in mindless adoration. (Location 77)

Help! by Oliver Burkeman

But Bennett’s insight is that zoning out is tiring, not relaxing; half-hearted semi-focusing causes life to feel like an exhausting blur. (Location 689)

Complete Works of Samuel Butler by Samuel Butler

My days run through me as water through a sieve. (Location 86,728)

Seduced by Consciousness by Jack Pransky

I realized being free does not come from being aware of our story; it comes from being aware of our creation of our story. (Location 4,487)

Today's quotes from my Kindle

These are the highlighted Kindle passages sent to me today by Readwise.


How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

The second question threading its way through this book is: how do we go about changing career and making the best possible decisions along the way? Although I offer no blueprint strategy that will work for everyone, there are three steps we ought to take. A starting point is to understand the sources of our confusions and fears about leaving our old jobs behind us and embarking on a new career. The next step is to reject the myth that there is a single, perfect job out there waiting for us to discover it, and instead identify our ‘multiple selves’ – a range of potential careers that might suit the different sides of our character. Finally, we have to turn the standard model of career change on its head: rather than meticulously planning then taking action, we should act first and reflect later, doing experimental projects that test-run our various selves in the real world. Ever thought of treating yourself to a ‘radical sabbatical’? (Location 142)


Greg Waldmann Reviews the Musical Career of Anthony Burgess (couldn’t find a link!)

One my favorite passages from his writings is at the beginning of Little Wilson and Big God, where he sits in New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1985, watching people go about their lives and thinking back on his own. “One goes on writing,” he says, “partly because it is the only available way of earning a living. It is a hard way and highly competitive… But one pushes on because one has to pay bills. There is also a privier reason for pushing on, and that is the hopeless hope that some day that intractable enemy language will yield to the struggle to control it… When I hear a journalist like Malcolm Muggeridge praising God because he has mastered the craft of writing, I feel a powerful nausea. It is not a thing to be said. Mastery never comes, and one serves a lifelong apprenticeship. The writer cannot retire from the battle; he dies fighting.” (Location 184)


Nuggets of Wisdom by Elsie Spittle

CONTINUE TO “MANUFACTURE” a healthy environment and appreciate the results, without hoping for more. Hoping for more gets in the way of appreciating what you have now. (Location 703)


The Arnold Bennett Calendar by Arnold Bennett

In the cultivation of the mind one of the most important factors is precisely the feeling of strain, of difficulty, of a task which one part of you is anxious to achieve and another part of you is anxious to shirk. (Location 963)


The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

Ultimately, if you protect yourself perfectly, you will never grow. All your habits and idiosyncrasies will stay the same. Life becomes stagnant when people protect their stored issues. (Location 889)


Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher

Habits. It’s the 5x5 rule. You are not just the average of the five people around you. You’re the average of the five habits you do, the things you eat, the ideas you have, the content you consume, etc.

Today's Readwise quotes

Cobalt Blue by Peggy Payne

To make two paintings, this much of a plan had come to her quickly, her first day in New Orleans, and even before. It hadn’t seemed serious or plausible then, had been simply too daunting. But now she knew where to find in herself what she needed to be able to do it. She’d started to catch on at the fountain at Pat O’Brien’s: that she, like everybody else, was both a reservoir and an outpouring. That she’d been pretty stingy all these years about what she’d poured out. (Location 4,213)

The Arnold Bennett Calendar by Arnold Bennett

The great convenience of masterpieces is that they are so astonishingly lucid. (Location 949)

The Trouble With Bright Girls | Psychology Today

How often have you found yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe, sticking to goals you knew would be easy for you to reach? Are there things you decided long ago that you could never be good at? Skills you believed you would never possess? If the list is a long one, you were probably one of the bright kids – and your belief that you are “stuck” being exactly as you are has done more to determine the course of your life than you probably ever imagined. Which would be fine, if your abilities were innate and unchangeable. Only they’re not. (Location 1,923)

Gopen’s Reader Expectation Approach to the English Language by George D. Gopen

To see the stories readers perceive in your paragraph, circle all the grammatical subjects and read them in progression. (Location 353)

How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

The art of career change requires turning the conventional approach on its head. We should wean ourselves off the rational-planning mentality and replace it with a philosophy of ‘act first, reflect later’. Ruminating in an armchair or poring through files at a career centre is not what we need. We must enter a more playful and experimental way of being, where we do then think, not think then do. (Location 836)