“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not enough time.”
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not enough time.”
More than a guidebook for aspiring wizards, Magic is also a veiled theory of religion. According to Henry Evans, whose introduction performs a kind of historiographical sleight of hand, spiritual miracles, paranormal experiences, and occult occurrences in ancient times point to a forgotten pre-history of modern stage magic. “Weeping and bleeding statues, temple doors that flew open with thunderous sound and apparently by supernatural means, and perpetual lamps that flamed forever in the tombs of holy men”, believes Evans, “were some of the thaumaturgic feats of the Pagan priests.” (Two hundred pages later, in Book II, Hopkins offers detailed schematics of “temple tricks” designed by the Ancient Greeks, discussing Heron of Alexander’s description of the Triumph of Bacchus, a mechanical shrine with self-moving figurines, and the dicaiometer, a jug that magically poured a perfect measure every time.) In the Middle Ages, continues Evans, the frequent reports of phantoms were a by-product of improvements in optics, for magicians with concave mirrors “were able to produce very fair ghost illusions to gull a susceptible public.” Witches burnt at the stake during the Enlightenment, he intimates, may have been magicians fully committed to their trade.
Another important part of the Candlelight story line is the culinary tradition. Servants worked tirelessly to prepare elaborate dishes for the governor’s table.
“As you read through cookbooks of the time period, you start figuring out, Oh, so this is going to take a very long time,” says Matt Arthur, Tryon’s living history program coordinator. “We think a gelatin dessert is easy; it’s just a box of Jell-O and boiling water. Back then, they were boiling calves’ feet, going through a purification process, using bladders of freshwater fish and deer antlers. It took a long time to do all of that.”
Arthur considers any 1700s recipe that involves gelatin to be a “power flex.” Those dishes demonstrated to the governor’s dinner guests that he had enough servants to pull off such complicated recipes. Food was a way for people of stature to show how wealthy they were without saying it.
Abigail Pogrebin was one of the young adults who performed in the first production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” It was a famous flop, closing after only 16 performances. But the cast album was one of my most treasured recordings, it evokes powerful feelings among Sondheim aficionados, and it’s one of his most beloved scores – though the show itself never seemed to click.
The original cast reunited for a concert performance, and Abigail wrote a book about both experiences: as a young adult with the world wide-open to her and full of possibilities and as an older adult still unpacking that youthful gut-punching experience.
I highly recommend the documentary on that reunion performance, The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, directed by one of the performers.
This is a quote from Abigail’s memoir on the experience. 📚
Elephants Can Remember was cited in a study done in 2009 using computer science to compare Christie’s earlier works to her later ones. The sharp drops in size of vocabulary and the increases in repeated phrases and indefinite nouns suggested that Christie may have been suffering from some form of late-onset dementia, perhaps Alzheimer’s disease. Source: Elephants Can Remember - Wikipedia
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. “It is no exaggeration to say that this has probably been the most taboo topic in Christian thought for two thousand years”, writes Stephen Sapp. In contrast to classical sculptural conventions, which — with exceptions like certain herma and statues of satyrs — often showcase male genitalia in a state of flaccid modesty (akin to Michelangelo’s Risen Christ), these Renaissance images shock us because they are so frequently ithyphallic: Christ has risen, but not in the way we have come to expect.
Is there a German word for being surrounded by stacks of once-feted, now forgotten novels piled in a deeply haunted basement wondering, “What if this is where my book ends up?”
Three years of German in high school didn’t offer an ample enough vocabulary. Thankfully, English has a word for this: sadness.
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
“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.”
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 (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.
Today’s Pome was too good not to share:
Your dress waving in the wind.
is the only flag I love.
trans. Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh (2020)
We are all outcasts; that is what drives advertising. All hoping to become swans, not knowing that we already are.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“Hell is where time has stopped”
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
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.
Dorothy Wordsworth and Pamela Woof
&c—The old woman was very happy to see us & we were so in the pleasure we gave. She was an affecting picture of Patient disappointment suffering under no particular affliction.
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 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)
A talent never persuades or encourages the owner of it; it drives him with a whip. (Location 1,080)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
My days run through me as water through a sieve. (Location 86,728)
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)
These are the highlighted Kindle passages sent to me today by Readwise.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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 great convenience of masterpieces is that they are so astonishingly lucid. (Location 949)
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)
To see the stories readers perceive in your paragraph, circle all the grammatical subjects and read them in progression. (Location 353)
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)
Art isn’t what you can get away with … Art is what gets away with you. Every encounter with a work of art is an elopement. The seduction of the self, the abandonment of the self to a different kind of experience, is what art offers. Every renewal of the artistic method and process is an attempt to wrestle art out of the marriage and into the love-affair. By which I mean the Keep Out signs of convention, respectability, familiarity, jargon. The high priest cult of ‘art’ is a lie about what art is. Art is feeling and experience and excitement before it hardens into meaning.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, Hendrik Groen, Hester Velmans (Translator)
After a while, the phrase old-age home began making people feel uneasy. It was replaced with retirement home and then assisted-living facility. The nursing home became a “care center.” And in the latest version, it seems I am enrolled in a “market-oriented health-services organization providing individually tailored care.” I now understand why health-care costs keep skyrocketing.
There are countless figures who made Doctor Who what it is. Indeed, there’re countless figures who made it great. But Terrance Dicks is the man who made it a show that thrills and vexes me enough to pen a million words analyzing it and still not feel done with it. He made it at once inscrutable and approachable, simple and fun yet endlessly thorny. He’s not why Doctor Who is good. But he is why generations love it, and why generations more will. There will never be anyone like him again on the program. There never could be. People like him don’t happen twice. They scarcely happen once. Thank the gods they did.
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
So I left non-duality and left Facebook and that left me a good deal of free time. Time does not exist except to people who are waiting for things to be over and then it goes s-l-o-w-l-y.
Source: Vicki Woodyard
Time passes slowly at the old folks home in Amsterdam.
If you don’t have anything special to do all day long, a molehill can turn into a mountain. A person’s time must be filled with something; one’s attention has to have a focus. Nasty character traits need an outlet. In contrast to what you’d expect, narrow-mindedness increases and tolerance lessens with the onset of old age. “Old and wise” is the exception rather than the rule.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen, Hester Velmans (Translator) (Amazon US)
Hendrik Groen’s diary is Adrian Mole for the grey generation.
Wonderful summing-up final paragraph from Stefany Anne Golberg’s essay on The Long Lost Friend
There’s a mood of disorientation and longing in The Long Lost Friend ’s title that strikes a different note than the confident claims to be found inside. Maybe this is the book’s “Long-Hidden” message, its essence, and the essence of all the self-help books that would follow it. The self-help book, via The Long Lost Friend, is an appeal to the American still wandering in the wilderness, curious about everything, needing nothing, wanting it all but not knowing how to get it, believing in the magic of utility, and the utility of magic.
It does a man good to turn himself inside out once in a while: to sort of turn the tables on himself: to look at himself through other eyes—especially skeptical eyes, if he can. It takes a good deal of resolution to do it: yet it should be done—no one is safe until he can give himself such a drubbing: until he can shock himself out of his complacency. Think how we go on believing in ourselves—which in the main is all right (what could we ever do if we didn’t believe in ourselves?)—a colossal self-satisfaction, which is worse for a man than being a damned scoundrel.
Walt Whitman tells a story:
A woman I knew once asked a man to give her a child: she was greatly in love with him: it was not done: he did not care that much for her: he said to her, “all children should be love children”: then he thought she might repent if the thing was done: after his refusal she said: “Now I suppose you despise me.” He said: “Despise you? no: I respect you: I feel that you have conferred the highest honor on me.” Years after, he met her again. She was married—had children. But she said to him: “I still love my dream-child best.”
Beware, anytime you hear anybody talking about reading novels as self-improvement – because they “increase empathy” or something like that. A close cousin is when people say you should read science fiction because it “helps you imagine the future.”
Here is my proposed alternative: read novels because there are novels…
It’s unfortunately very common in the San Francisco of 2019, this quest for a deeper “because” that finds its foundation in self-improvement. Resist.
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.
From The Public Domain Review:
Though Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that the nineteenth century “forgot about Soane”, it was ironically through his funereal-architecture that his spirit was revived. The ruined classical architecture of death had become one of the utilitarian icons of the twentieth century. These boxes are now relics on the streets, preserved by English Heritage and frequented by the occasional tourist … Like their architectural inspiration, these boxes now act as a memorial to a form of life now passed.
I decided at one point in my life that I never wanted to be anything that would not allow me to be anything else I wanted to be … I ended up being nothing that I can currently identify, which I suppose means I got my wish.
from Laura Warholic by Alexander Theroux
The British technology journalist Ian Betteridge is credited with the adage “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” I want to make a similar claim: Any question at the end of an essay can be answered with the word yes. (Same goes, most likely, for poems, short stories, etc.) The question is a kind of weasel syntax that lets the author have it both ways: make a gesture toward profundity without having to commit to it.
Once you grasp this, the modern mantra of “no regrets” begins to look not courageous but fear-based: a desperate, panicky effort to avoid future sadness. By contrast, and paradoxically, amor fati offers a more full-throated way of overcoming regret: by accepting it. It’s not a matter of making bold choices “before it’s too late”, but rather of seeing that it’s already too late, and always has been. This is deeply liberating. You only live once. Why waste it trying to have no regrets?
The conclusion of the book provides advice on avoiding blunders.
…make a realistic effort to slow our rush to judgment before all the relevant facts are in. If we could grow more comfortable with the uncertainty around us, our daily blunders would not be as great. All kinds of daily interactions would be altered if we suspended our insufficiently informed conclusions over why others act the way they do.
As children, we harbor ideals for how the world and our lives could be; as adults, we gain bitter experience of how often reality falls short. Growing up means refusing to scurry back into childhood’s unsullied ideals – yet *also* declining to give in to cynical resignation. It’s about tolerating the tension between how things are and how they should be, while still getting out of bed in the morning. To be a good citizen, a good parent, a good political activist – a good grown-up – may require nothing less.
I’m a writer but I’m also a teacher and having been successful at both I can tell you that people who say things like “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” ought to try to teach. It is hard to be a teacher….
I have dedicated my life to art but honestly, in many ways, artists are parasites. We don’t keep people warm, we don’t feed people, we don’t keep them dry (unless they use books to build a shelter.) Give me an oncology nurse any day. You can all deluge me with emails about how important art was/is to you and I won’t disagree, but try living in your car for a week.
I’m proud of what I do. But I’ve arguably changed more lives by being a mom and by teaching than by writing.
Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. I will share it with you because I like and respect you, and it is clear to me that you’ll know how to apply it wisely: When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
From “How To Be Polite.”
Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and political parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.
In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.
“We live by slowing down and saying with our lives that the world will not be saved by frantic activity.” – Stanley Hauerwas, theologian, Duke University
Rosen says the book is written with “scholarly care and memoirist’s flair,” and that it’s “a brisk, lively read, a concise and shrewdly observed portrait of an unlikely political alliance” … but by far the most remarkable part of his review came under the noxious book reviewer humble-bragging tag of “full disclosure,” where the reviewer usually confesses to having had a friendly chat with the author once years ago at the country club they once shared until they both quit when the place started admitting black people (what can I say? As the old saying goes, when you lie down with the National Review, you wake up in a gated community with alcoholic children and a wife who hates you).
"I’ve always thought most book reviews are too long,” he says, explaining his truncated reviews. “People read the review as a substitute for reading the book, whereas the review should get you to read the book, ideally. The best for that would be very short book reviews; some are just three or four words long. A long one might be 10 words, but you try to make the book sound intriguing."
Regarding my personal time management, I also try to live by the philosophy that focuses on: ‘What did I do that was productive and beneficial in the last 40 minutes?’ I literally sit at my desk completing a task and ask myself if I am actually being valuable. If I have not done anything constructive or useful in the last 40 minutes, I am not managing my time well and need to adjust what I am doing to execute more effectively.
We hear “do what you love” so often from those few people who it did work for, for whom the stars aligned, and from them it sounds like good advice. They’re successful, aren’t they? If we follow their advice, we’ll be successful, too! […] We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.
I also find it sad that because his book is filled with a whole bunch of nonsense, that’s why it’s a bestseller; that’s why we’re talking. Because that’s how you get on the bestseller list. You promise the moon and stars, you say everything you heard before was wrong, and you blame everything on one thing. You get a scapegoat; it’s classic. Atkins made a fortune with that formula. We’ve got Rob Lustig saying it’s all fructose; we’ve got T. Colin Campbell [author of The China Study, a formerly bestselling book] saying it’s all animal food; we now have Perlmutter saying it’s all grain. There’s either a scapegoat or a silver bullet in almost every bestselling diet book.
Unforeseen things will occur and you will inevitably deviate from your plan, this is organic, and it is a good thing. It is what keeps the game interesting.
I once heard a writer say that the only punctuation mark that we ever need is a period.
From Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust, the Rule of 50 will change your life:
Nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read. I live by what I call ‘the rule of fifty,’ which acknowledges that time is short and the world of books is immense. If you’re fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100. The result is the number of pages you should read before deciding.
Do not mistake coincidence for fate. Also, never ignore a coincidence. Unless you’re busy, in which case, always ignore a coincidence.
“Our whole life is an attempt to discover when our spontaneity is whimsical, sentimental irresponsibility and when it is a valid expression of our deepest desires and values.” Helen Merell Lynd
If I step back from it, then of course it’s complete nonsense. But I always think that it’s important that when you watch Doctor Who, you are completely invested in it. You’re emotional: wiping away a tear, frightened, laughing your socks off. All that stuff.
There’s a saying about fridge logic - that when you go to the fridge afterwards, you’re thinking ‘ah, that didn’t really work’. My response always to fridge logic is: who fucking cares? If you’re still thinking about it by the time you’ve got to the fridge, the show has already won.
They say be careful what you wish for: no. Don’t be careful what you wish for. Absolutely wish for stuff. It’s good. Nothing wrong with that.
All of these conspiracy theories depend on the perpetrators being endlessly clever. I think you’ll find the facts also work if you assume everyone is endlessly stupid.
David Suchet likes to think of life as a spider’s web. The spider, you see, spins his web from behind; he can’t see what he’s creating. “The only time he can check what led to what is when he turns around,” says Suchet pensively. “So in our life. We don’t know what we’re spinning, what we touch, what we do…”
… I learned a very simple way of keeping myself on the right path. That was to ask myself regularly throughout the day “Is this God’s will?” without seeking for a precise answer. What I found was that my actions would change in response to the question, a bit like a sailing boat responding to the helm.
Is This God’s Will? - Journal - In Terra Aliena, Source: terraaliena.squarespace.com (404)
I have no good advice, but here’s some I gleaned from a letter Benjamin Haydon, who rarely gave him good advice, wrote to John Keats: “God bless you my dear Keats, don’t despair, collect incidents, study characters, read Shakespeare and trust in Providence.”
What we call progress is just screwing up in new and inventive ways.
Wisdom is for statues. Humor uncaps our inhibitions, unleashes our energies, seals friendships, patches hurts. Laughing is probably the most alive you can be.
My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.
Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.
The moral: You gain more by not being stupid than you do by being smart. Smart gets neutralized by other smart people. Stupid does not.
From J. L. Carr’s 1980 novella “A Month in the Country" :
We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours forever — the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
Here’s what I’ve learned from not writing about my life because I was scared you wouldn’t like it: I’ve learned that you don’t care what I do in my life as long as I’m interesting. If I am doing something that’s scary, and I tell you, then you can identify with me when you do something scary. What this community is, really, is people who want to do something scary. Because life is very, very boring if we don’t scare ourselves.
No one can accuse me of pandering or writing purely in the hopes of having a commercial hit. I doubt I could do that if I tried anyway. My friend pointed out that I also have a track record that establishes that I’m not fixated on having commercial hits. I forgot that part.
If we really want to understand our fellow human beings accurately, we must allow them to surprise us, to contradict what we think we know about them. Like good scientists, we should cling to our theories about people only loosely and always be willing to revise them in light of new data.
Like many other Americans, I became aware of Hughes through his "Shock of the New" documentary and considered myself lucky to snag a copy of the hardback from a remainder table at the (long-gone and lamented) Intimate Book Shop in 1983. Most people can name critics of movies, music, and books because we hear those products talked about on NPR or Entertainment Weekly. Art critics -- not so much. The only one I could name with any confidence would have been Hughes. I did not read much of his stuff, but like Gore Vidal or Pauline Kael, I had only to read a few lines and I could hear the cadence of his prose, and the stunning way he could put together a sentence. I always liked his boisterous charisma and certainty.
The following paragraph is from his memoir, "Things I Didn't Know." Thanks to The Daily Beast for bringing it to my attention.
“I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist [shit], no matter how much the demos love it.”
—Robert Hughes, Things I Didn’t Know
What is more important than happiness is involvement. We want to be involved with our lives, other people, projects, and the creative process. In that involvement, we will experience a range of moods, emotions, feelings from high to low. It comes with the territory. And, in those wonderful moments, when you are happy, it is something to appreciate for what it is, an exquisite interlude that makes up in height for what it lacks in length.
In nooks all over the earth sit men who are waiting, scarcely knowing in what way they are waiting, much less that they are waiting in vain. Occasionally the call that awakens—-that accident which gives the “permission” to act—-comes too late, when the best youth and strength for action has already been used up by sitting still; and many have found to their horror when they “leaped up” that their limbs had gone to sleep and their spirit had become too heavy. “It is too late,” they said to themselves, having lost their faith in themselves and henceforth forever useless.
“Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow.”
About a third of the self-help books that cross my desk could be distilled to two things: first, if you can tolerate a little discomfort, you can achieve almost any goal; and second, it’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to to avoid discomfort. (via This column will change your life: the two things | Life and style | The Guardian)
In September of 1968, in what he jokingly termed “E. Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art,” Gorey wrote these Yodaesque words:
“This is the theory ... that anything that is art ... is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.”
“We moved today to 415 Central Park West. Enormous business of packing and unpacking my books, which I have been carrying on my back for so many years. Lord, how I would like to get free of all these things sometime. I date my maturity from the day I realized there were books I could get along without.”
In an essay written last year for the SMiLE tour booklet, Van Dyke professes still not to know what “Over and over … ” means. That’s indeed a respectable position for a poet to take. John Ashbery, whom many readers would consider the greatest living American poet, has said that he has no idea what it is he’s doing when he writes. The work of making and the work of noticing and explaining are two different things. I tend to distrust poets who are willing to explicate their work, and I cringe a little when someone asks “What did you mean by that?” It’s for the reader to make something of what he or she reads, and that’s what I’ve been doing here.
From James Webb Young, The Diary of an Ad Man: The War Years, June 1, 1942-December 31, 1943 (Chicago: Advertising Publications, 1944)—
“Talked with domestic science editor of one of the women’s magazines. She told me that she had tested literally thousands of recipes, covering almost every kind of food. Asked her what, after all this, she considered the best eating. She thought it was pretty hard to beat a good sirloin steak, washed down with straight whiskey. Western gal.” (via The Poetry of Sight: Sirloin Steak and Whiskey)
Coleridge demurred only partly because he was afraid of the enormous outlay of energy it takes to shepherd a young man to intellectual awareness (although that fear alone is usually what stops would-be preceptors in their tracks); the rest of it was the result of his up-close estimation of Charles: underneath the languid ‘Romantic’ pose of philosophical questing, there wasn’t a whole lot going on (“no birdsong in the hedgerow,” as one contemporary put it).
“How do you and your wife split songwriting chores?“
It’s an adventure. You’ve got a flashlight, I’ve got the map. You hold the nail, I’ll swing the hammer. You wash, I’ll dry. If two people know the same thing, one of you is unnecessary. My wife has dreams and is telepathic and clairvoyant and female. I write from the news or what I see in my field of vision. I’m boots and hats and pocketknives. She’s filled with musical and lyrical surprises. She’s a joy to work with.”
From Tom Wait’s Library
Some more EVIL EYE covers
A great way to give thanks…
for the privileges we’ve got is to do important work.
Your job, your internet access, your education, your role in a civilized society… all of them are a platform, a chance to do art, a way for you to give back and to honor those that enabled you to get to this point.
For every person reading this there are a thousand people (literally a thousand) in underprivileged nations and situations that would love to have your slot. Don’t waste it.
“What you newspaper and magazine writers, who work in rabbit time, don’t understand is that the practice of architecture has to be measured in elephant time.”
A good magazine article doesn’t need an introduction, so don’t begin with the background of your subject, how you happened to get interested in it, why the reader should read it, or how you obtained the information for it. Begin your article with conflict that produces tension, often revealed by including a brief example or anecdote and problem that will be resolved at the end. It’s a good rule to start as near the end as possible and then plunge your reader into the central tension. When you’ve involved your reader in this way, weave in background facts or information as you think the reader needs it to understand the purpose and point of your piece.
DONALD M. MURRAY
Before the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic I had that sense that one does of a long, expansive living ahead of me. When my friends and my partner began to sicken and die around me, that shifted everything in a sense that you just don’t know what prospect is ahead of you. For me, that exacerbates desire. On the other hand you have to negotiate because desire enflamed can become a blinder. It’s a balancing act I have never felt especially good at.
Secretly, I believe balance is boring. I used to take yoga classes and there’s these exercises where you’re supposed to be standing on one leg in this position as a stork, and I was terrible at them! I would get annoyed because they would always turn it into metaphor: “If you don’t have physical balance it means you need to seek balance”; No I don’t!
1. Dialogue should be brief.
2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.
3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.
4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.
5. It should keep the story moving forward.
6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly.
7. It should show the relationships among people.
“Colleen’s Dream” (An outtake from my book THE HIDDEN). To read the story behind it, see Here Lies RICHARD SALA: An Outtake from The Hidden ~ Colleen’s Dream
Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.
(See also: Teach a man to light a match, he warms himself for a day. Set him on fire, and he’s warm for the rest of his life.)
Trollope said, “On the last day of each month recorded, every person in a work of fiction should be a month older than on the first.” We go with our characters wherever they lead us, and as time makes its mark on us, so it must on them.
If you acknowledge all this resistance and act on your plan anyway, you will make one of the most liberating discoveries possible for a human being—that you can take constructive action in any moment no matter what you feel, and no matter what excuses occur to you.
In short, you are free. Thoughts come and go. Feelings arise and fade. But none of them need to stop you from living a meaningful life based on your values.
Here’s a quote from Stephen Fry’s novel Making History, one of the few passages that struck me as admirable in that lamentably bad book.
If there is a word to describe our age, it must be Security, or to put it another way, Insecurity. From the neurotic insecurity of Freud, by the way of the insecurities of the Kaiser, the Fuhrer, Eisenhower, and Stalin, right up to the terrors of the citizens of the modern world –
THEY ARE OUT THERE
The enemy. They will break into your car, burgle your house, molest your children, consign you to hellfire, murder you for drug money, force you to face Mecca, infect your blood, outlaw your sexual preferences, erode your pension, pollute your beaches, censor your thoughts, steal your ideas, poison your air, threaten your values, use foul language on your television, destroy your security. Keep them away! Lock them out! Hide them from sight! Bury them!
(originally posted 2010-11-22, updated for micro.blog)
Interesting confluence of views from today's feeds: Let's face it, science is boring - science-in-society - 21 December 2009 - New Scientist "Science is not a whirlwind dance of excitement, illuminated by the brilliant strobe light of insight. It is a long, plodding journey through a dim maze of dead ends. It is painstaking data collection followed by repetitious calculation. It is revision, confusion, frustration, bureaucracy and bad coffee. In a word, science can be boring."
Medical Hypotheses: Why are modern scientists so dull? "How science selects for perseverance and sociability at the expense of intelligence and creativity"
It won’t surprise me if neuroscientists eventually succeed in unlocking the mystery of music. I don’t fear that prospect, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that part of the charm of music lies in the fact that we don’t know what it means, any more than we can explain the equally mysterious charm of a plotless ballet by George Balanchine or an abstract painting by Piet Mondrian. “We dare to go into the world where there are no names for anything,” Balanchine once said to Jerome Robbins. Most of us, on the other hand, live in a prosy, commonsense world where everything has a name and most things have an explanation. That’s why it is so refreshing to enter into the presence of great art, and why the greatest works of art always contain an element of ambiguity. A masterpiece doesn’t push you around. It lets you make up your own mind about what it means —- and change it as often as you like.
There are times when I am terribly presumptuous, to visit my personal feelings on other people’s way of living a life. In truth, I’m very egalitarian in that way. I’m an elitist because I think there are too many stupid people in the world. But one must not pity them; one must take an AK-47 and kill them. You just need to kill as many stupid people as you can find. Go out in the streets and ask them if they have ever heard of Guy de Maupassant. No? Bam, you’re dead. Have you ever heard of Bessie Smith? No? Bam, you’re dead.
Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you are interested, keep working. If you are bored, keep working. —Michael Crichton
Jean Plaidy wasn’t the only pen-name she used, far from it: most famously she was also Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr, but if memory serves, there were many, many others. For decades, her novels (a great heaping mass of them historical novels) fell from her creative teats and hit the floor like baby rats – fully-formed, stripped bare for function, and avid for survival.
I have a dear friend who sometimes dabbles in this kind of idiocy, though she bloody well knows better; she’ll finish a piece of poop by somebody like Yiyun Li and say, “Boy, reading that really made me want to meet the author,” when she knows perfectly well good fiction will only prompt the response, “Boy, reading that really made me want to read something else by the author.”
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times,” wrote the wise Trappist monk Thomas Merton in the 1960s, long before the web, or BlackBerrys, or the first use of the word “multitasking” as applied to human activity. “Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace.” Were he alive today, he presumably wouldn’t have a Twitter account.
“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has intense violence and frequent repetition of every true New Yorker’s favorite word.
Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not walk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. Substitute divine thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.
If I hear one more person pontificate on how diabetes is TOTALLY avoidable, I will rip their living heart from their chest and eat it in front of them, saying to their glazing eyes, “THAT was totally avoidable, dumb-ass.”
Who needs alcohol and drugs when you have Tom Waits?
In East of Eden, John Steinbeck writes:
‘A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”
I believe that there is one story in the world…. Humans are caught – in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too – in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill?’
By then, the veterans had developed an informal set of rules for themselves: Take the craft seriously (Dench: “deadly”). Don’t take yourself seriously (Stewart: “That’s death to creativity”). Never think you know it all (Dench: “Absolutely fatal”).
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
Good taste is really just a kind of aesthetic vegetarianism.
I think the way to “solve” the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you’ll leave the right things undone.
Moyra Davey on Random Reading
“So how are we to draw up those reading lists finally? I have been fascinated to note how many writers invoke chance and randomness as guiding principles in choosing their books. I am talking about Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who, citing ‘the John Cage-ish principle that if randomness determines the universe it might as well determine my reading too,’ spent a winter reading the Greek tragedies because she happened to find a discounted set in a mail order catalogue. I’m talking about the serendipitous findings of Virginia Woolf, the little pamphlet from a hundred years ago that she comes across in a second-hand bookshop that stops her in her tracks and rivets her to the spot. I am talking about the happenstance of Georges Perec, who, while engaged in the tedious task of arranging his bookshelves, comes upon a book he’d lost sight of and writes: 'putting off until tomorrow what you won’t do today, you finally re-devour [it] lying face down on your bed.’ He further speculates that in our pursuit of knowledge, 'order and disorder are in fact the same word, denoting pure chance.’ And finally, I am talking about the passionate book collector uncrating his treasures after a two-year hiatus, as portrayed by Walter Benjamin in his autobiographical essay 'Unpacking My Library,’ for whom 'chance and fate … are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these book.’
"Just as a bookcase full of read and unread books conjures up a portrait of the owner over time ('joggers of the memory’ Perec calls them), so the books that arrest us in the present constitute a reflection of 'what we are, or what we are becoming or desire’ (Schwartz). There is nothing random about that, or about any of these other seemingly random ways of coming to books, and it is from this notion that the oddly apt idea of books choosing us, rather than the other way around, seems to make sense. The idea of a book choosing the reader has to do with a permission granted. A book gives permission when it uncovers a want or a need, and in doing so asserts itself above all the hundreds of others jockeying to be read. In this way a book can become a sort of uncanny mirror held up to the reader, one that concretizes a desire in the process of becoming.” –Moyra Davey fr. The Problem of Reading A Documents Book, 2003
Lindsay Marshall on serendipity:
We are not, I believe, looking for tools to record our thoughts or to provide them with structure. What we seek is something that leads us to the unforeseen collisions, the copulations that lead to new thoughts, new connections and yet more new meetings.
From Charles Bowden in Blood Orchid:
“We are an exceptional model of the human race. We no longer know how to produce food. We no longer can heal ourselves. We no longer raise our young. We have forgotten the names of the stars, fail to notice the phases of the moon. We do not know the plants and they no longer protect us. We tell ourselves we are the most powerful specimens of our kind who have ever lived. But when the lights are off we are helpless. We cannot move without traffic signals. We must attend classes in order to learn by rote numbered steps toward love or how to breast-feed our baby. We justify anything, anything at all by the need to maintain our way of life. And then we go to the doctor and tell the professionals we have no life. We have a simple test for making decisions: our way of life, which we cleverly call our standard of living, must not change except to grow yet more grand. We have a simple reality we live with each and every day: our way of life is killing us.”
A strange obsession, mine. But better to be addicted to smartphones and gismos than cocaine or sex, I suppose. Well, I don’t know, the result is the same after all, very little sleep, great expense and horrific mess everywhere.
Think like a man of action, act like a man of thoughts
So which is it: job or calling? You can answer the question directly, or allow time to answer it for you. Either way, I think you’d be happier if you stopped thinking of what the world had to offer you, and started thinking a bit more about what you had to offer the world. Real excitement isn’t just in whatever you happen to be doing, but in what you bring to it.
via www.creativereview.co.uk (404)
Client begins first meeting by making a big show of telling you that you are the expert. You are in charge, he says: he will defer to you in all things, because you understand the web and he does not. (Trust your uncle Jeffrey: this man will micromanage every hair on the project’s head.)
Highly productive people do not have more time, but they may have more energy, more method and better feedback on their progress.
That’s what most people do. They keep waiting and waiting until they have enough saved up, find the right idea or until they’re in a position with more responsibility. But conditions are never perfect. And when we’re so focused on our plans, we lose sight of the openings in front of us. Instead of plans we need habits. Habits of taking risks. Habits of keeping our eyes open for new opportunities. Habits of putting ourselves in situations that force us to grow and change. We can all introduce a little chaos into our lives.
The phrase “especially in this economy” is the new black.
Maeda’s SIMPLICITY (404):
It’s not for others to recognize the fruits of your work; it’s for yourself. The desire is to complete a thought. So then … you can go on and find a new one to torment yourself with. The intellectual torment … is … fun? Hmmmm. Difficult to say. Perhaps it is a kind of acquired taste for an odd pleasure.
I see a world that really did change dramatically over the last century, but where progress on many fronts (like transportation and energy) seems to have slowed down rather than sped up; a world quickly approaching its carrying capacity, exhausting its natural resources, ruining its oceans, and supercharging its climate; a world where technology is often powerless to solve the most basic problems, millions continue to die for trivial reasons, and democracy is't even clearly winning over despotism; a world that finally has a communications network with a decent search engine but that still hasn't emerged from the tribalism and ignorance of the Pleistocene. And I can't help thinking that, before we transcend the human condition and upload our brains to computers, a reasonable first step might be to bring the 18th-century Enlightenment to the 98% of the world that still hasn't gotten the message.
Like virtue, poetry is its own reward. … The immortality game, like that of getting into the circle of the two hundred, can be wicked and delusionary. … That leaves you with perhaps the most important reward of all: personal satisfaction. … You are more likely to succeed at poetry, as in love, if you get success out of your head. Concentrate on quality. Learn the joy of creating excellence — whether or not anyone else recognizes it.
We all know the one about the Emperor walking around with nothing on, while everyone admires the finery of his garments – garments so fine that only really clever and smart people like investment bankers can see them. The rest of us thought that debt, was, well, debt, but the bankers said no, debt is asset. It’s just that we couldn’t see it because we were so stupid…
... Yes, we need to stabilise our present situation, and then, perhaps, we could ask a really simple question – far too simple for the clever people – what is money for? At least that way it stops being an end in itself.
Then, the best thing of all – coming home in the dead of night to this beautiful place where there are no lights and no noise, and where the dog, the cats, the owls, the foxes, the badgers and the stars are more or less where I left them.
It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’
In the end I like structures that are human-shaped, not idea-shaped and humans are great heaps of inconsistency, ambiguity and complexity.
I forebear telling him that the reason I do not find Mormonism especially ridiculous is because I find all pretend invisible friends, Special Books and their rules equally ridiculous. Mormon ideas about realms of crystal rebirthing and special underpants are no weirder than the enforcing of wigs and woollen tights on orthodox Jewish women or laws and dogmas about burkhas and Virgin Births. The religion of the Latter Day Saints is not deserving of especial contempt simply because it is newer. It is as barmy as the rest and I cheerfully treat it as such.
I’ve never been able to grow a thicker skin, so instead I create buffer zones.
There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her claws sooner or later, trouble will come for him -- disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.
A few years ago, I read and enjoyed Alice W. Flaherty's memoir, The Midnight Disease. Suffering from postpartum depression after the death of her newborn child, she began experiencing hypergraphia -- the uncontrollable urge to write. She filled pages and pages with her writing, and couldn't stop -- the opposite of writer's block. Flaherty is a psychiatrist and her memoir/study grapples with a scientific way to look at creativity, which at times resembles a mental disorder.
When I had the book, I wrote down many passages and thoughts that struck me. Those passages follow. Page numbers refer to the hardcover edition.
(no page #) Far more important, a life chosen to maximize joy may be very different from one chosen to minimize pain.
212 Accounts of the muse's influence are matched by complaints of its fickleness. An example is Donald Justice's poem "The Telephone Number of the Muse":
I call her up sometimes, long distance now. And she still knows my voice, but I can hear, Behind the music of her phonograph, The laughter of the young men with their keys. I have the number written down somewhere.
239 I would argue that these creative states are extreme variants of the inner voice, that constant monologue which fills us from when we first learn language as toddlers until we lose it in nursing homes and intensive care units.
250 When we are thinking abstractly, though, we seem to be doing so prelinguistically, both because the speed of our thoughts seems faster than words and because of the difficulty we often have in putting fleeting thoughts into real words. By contrast, in both the experience of the muse and in psychotic hallucinations, the voice heard has more of a sensory quality as well; it is more like a voice, less like an idea.
This notion fits with our sense that voices, whether spoken or signed, in some way are more primitive than silent thoughts. Just as two-year-olds say aloud much of what goes through their heads, just as six-year-olds subvocalize when they read, so people in the throes of creation, as well as people hallucinating, may be thinking more primitively. Not necessarily more simplistically, but primitively ... more vividly, more concretely, more associatively, less constrained by societal convention.
252 The psychiatrist Mark Epstein has pointed out that keeping respiration in mind as a model for our give-and-take relationship with the external world, and especially with our creative work, would have a very different effect from thinking of the world as something (on the oral, anal, or genital models) to be consumed, expelled, or penetrated.
254 The image is not of the artist enriched by the spirit of art, but ex-hausted by its leaving his body. Finishing a project successfully is, paradoxically, a not uncommon cause of clinical depression.
I think that when you work hard enough on any work, everything of value in you goes into that work. When you finish it, it leaves you, and you are empty.
260 Neurologists and others have attributed the behavior of many famous religious leaders directly to temporal lobe epilepsy.
Moses, for instance, reportedly had convulsive fits starting at age three, speech problems suggestive of aphasia or dysarthria, unusually prolific writing, episodes of sudden rage, and religious visions. One neuropsychologist has even speculated that his epilepsy was caused by his being left in that basket among the bullrushes for several days and sustaining a brain injury from heatstroke.
266 The scientist in me worries that my happiness is nothing more than a symptom of bipolar disease, hypergraphia from a postpartum disorder. The rest of me thinks that artificially splitting off the scientist in me from the writer in me is actually a kind of cultural bipolar disorder, one that too many of us have. The scientist asks how I can call my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don't, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.
When it comes to Hollywood, Alan Moore can't catch a break, not that he necessarily wants one. The price of being a visionary is that everyone wants to use your vision to show how much of a visionary they are.
People use books like law school. They think if they have some piece of paper – a degree, a contract – then people will respect them and then they'll respect themselves. But self-respect comes from having some sort of vision for one's life and heading in that direction. And there is no one who can give you that vision – you have to give it to yourself, and before you can feel like you have direction, you have to feel lost — and lost is okay.
By improbably (and I’ve often thought, mistakenly) landing a brief berth in the Technorati Top 100, 43 Folders was also “discovered” by an unspeakable black mildew of PR people who, on their clients’ behalf, “reach out” to bloggers with the gruesome goal of getting them to trade their credibility for access to free crap and “embargoed” press releases. Mm, pinch me. And, somewhere in there, I heard somebody say, “Marketing is the tax you pay for being unremarkable,” and I dreamed of having that phrase printed on a giant hammer.
In a recent critical essay about economist-philosopher Friedrich Hayek, Jesse Larner notes:
... Hayek understood at least one very big thing: that the vision of a perfectible society leads inevitably to the gulag. Experience should have taught us by now that human societies are jerry-built structures, rickety towers of ad hoc solutions to unforeseen problems. Their development is evolutionary, and as in biological evolution, they do not have natural end-states. They are what they are continuously becoming. Comprehensive models of how society should work reject the wisdom of solutions that work and deny the legitimacy (indeed, from Lenin to Mussolini to Mao to Ho to Castro to Qutb, deny the very right to exist) of individuals who demonstrate anti-orthodox wisdom. Defenders of these models are required by their own rigidity to invent the category of the counterrevolutionary. To Hayek, this is what socialism, communism, and collectivism—he makes little distinction between them—mean: the dangerous illusion of perfectibility. ...
And when the interchangeable young man says, after the cricket game on the lawn, “Ripping performance, old boy! Come up to the house and meet the mater,” well, that touches all my Anglophile buttons.
You will have to understand that the logic of success is radically different from the logic of vocation. The logic of what our society means by “success” supposedly leads you ever upward to any higher-paying job that can be done sitting down. The logic of vocation holds that there is an indispensable justice, to yourself and to others, in doing well the work that you are “called” or prepared by your talents to do.
And so you must refuse to accept the common delusion that a career is an adequate context for a life. The logic of success insinuates that self-enlargement is your only responsibility, and that any job, any career will be satisfying if you succeed in it.
But I can tell you, on the authority of much evidence, that a lot of people highly successful by that logic are painfully dissatisfied. I can tell you further that you cannot live in a career, and that satisfaction can come only from your life. To give satisfaction, your life will have to be lived in a family, a neighborhood, a community, an ecosystem, a watershed, a place, meeting your responsibilities to all those things to which you belong.
You will be told also – ignoring our permanent dependence on food, clothing, and shelter – that you live in a “knowledge-based economy,” which in fact is deeply prejudiced against all knowledge that does not produce the quickest possible return on investment.
The only thing you get to do in this world is choose what a good life is and then aim for it. But that requires being opinionated. Every day you are choosing what’s a good life for you.
“There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.” -Lon Chaney
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Here’s some advice for successfully reading a book: You need to stay focused, so try to avoid distractions. Avoid multitasking. Avoid task switching. Turn off the TV. Shift positions occasionally so you don’t get cramps or backaches. Don’t get too comfortable or you might fall asleep. (Interestingly, many of these same rules apply to having sex, except that you can read a book with a cat in your lap.)
Declining books sales have led some publishers into thinking that the way to revive books is to make them more like an online experience. That is truly a mistake! It’s like trying to get people to exercise by making it more like napping.
My previous post on winning arguments unfairly reminded me of a blog posting by the actor, writer, wit, and all-around bon vivant Stephen Fry. In this post, (scroll down to "Getting Overheated") Fry discusses how Englishers and Americans differ when having an argument. While he and his fellow Englishmen love a good hearty tussle of ideas, he finds Americans discomfited by the idea of argument or debate of any kind.
I was warned many, many years ago by the great Jonathan Lynn, co-creator of "Yes Minister" and director of the comic masterpiece "My Cousin Vinnie", that Americans are not raised in a tradition of debate and that the adversarial ferocity common around a dinner table in Britain is more or less unheard of in America. When Jonathan first went to live in LA he couldn’t understand the terrible silences that would fall when he trashed an statement he disagreed with and said something like “yes, but that’s just arrant nonsense, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. It’s self-contradictory.” To a Briton pointing out that something is nonsense, rubbish, tosh or logically impossible in its own terms is not an attack on the person saying it – it’s often no more than a salvo in what one hopes might become an enjoyable intellectual tussle. Jonathan soon found that most Americans responded with offence, hurt or anger to this order of cut and thrust. Yes, one hesitates ever to make generalizations, but let’s be honest the cultures are different, if they weren’t how much poorer the world would be and Americans really don’t seem to be very good at or very used to the idea of a good no-holds barred verbal scrap. I’m not talking about inter-family ‘discussions’ here, I don’t doubt that within American families and amongst close friends, all kinds of liveliness and hoo-hah is possible, I’m talking about what for good or ill one might as well call dinner-party conversation. Disagreement and energetic debate appears to leave a loud smell in the air.
Don’t pack for the worst scenario. Pack for the best scenario and simply buy yourself out of any jams.
Look for kindred souls. They are few and far between, and nothing is more precious.
Sometimes I get emails that are more than two pages long, attempting to explain a problem. I’m going to tell you something: All career problems can be described in under 100 words. If you are going over 100 words, you don’t know your problem. If you are going over 1000 words, it’s because your self-knowledge is really bad, so that is your problem.
The bottom line is that you should never spend more than $1500 on art unless you know at least roughly what it is worth at auction. One of life’s good rules of thumb.
Nowadays, instead of saying, “He’s a prick,” I’ll say, “He’s complicated.”
Do you read a lot of contemporary fiction these days? Like everyone else, no, I don’t.
There is a kind of heroic pessimism running through this work, and one is inclined to appropriate for the sort of essay collected in this volume a lament Vidal once delivered for the novel: “Our lovely vulgar and most human art is at an end, if not the end. Yet that is no reason not to want to practice it, or even to read it. In any case, rather like priests who have forgotten the meaning of the prayers they chant, we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods, perhaps in silence or with new words.”
Early in my writing career, I had an assignment to follow around a mohel–the guy who does ritual circumcisions in the Jewish tradition. My subject learned the trade by watching his dad, a renowned figure in the field. One day, father told son he was ready to handle the tools himself. Why now, the son wanted to know. “Most students ask me how much to take off,” the senior explained. “You asked me how much to leave on.”
A Flickr set of scans of artist David Fullarton’s wonderfully odd sketchbook.
And: David’s blog
Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it - just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.
Audiobooks are my e-books. ... Audiobooks take the content from a novel and turn it into something else - something I can use when I can't read a novel. That’s what these e-book readers seem to miss. I want to search text, transform it, cut and paste it, and listen to it. If I want to sit and read it, I’ll go with the actual book. They’re about fifty times cheaper, more durable (do you think you can read a Kindle if you bury it in the mud for 1000 years?), and far more lovable than some plastic box with a bunch of buttons on it.
But in the movie, as always in the movies, writing flows easily and life is hard, when in reality life is hard and writing is harder.
On actual Halloween night I didn’t even dress up, me and a group of friends just went to Keagan’s where my sister bartends. … Earlier that night I forgot to buy candy so all these little kids were coming to the door looking for candy. All I had handy were airplane bottles of Captain Morgan and some birth control pills — but hey, at least it’s something. I don’t see you giving back to the community.
What I found out on set on other films is, what makes a crew really roll is when the director makes decisions very quickly and very straight. What confuses a crew and actors is when the director is a little bit like, “I’m not sure what to do there.” The minute you’re confused, you lose everybody. But what’s funny is, I didn’t have to push myself too hard—I was never confused. I was always pretty strong and knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and when I didn't—when I had a moment where I didn’t know exactly what to do, I pretended I did. Which made the crew entirely follow me.
Charcoal Drawing from Rushlight Literary Magazine (Wheaton College) via dspace.nitle.org
All the loves in the strip are unrequited; all the baseball games are lost; all the test scores are D-minuses; the Great Pumpkin never comes; and the football is always pulled away.
As a child, Mr. Newman decided to pursue a career in bio-technology. This vision lasted until he landed a biotech internship the summer before college. “I soon discovered that this was a place where people told jokes with the punch line: ‘And that’s why they call it reverse-transcriptase,’” says Mr. Newman. “I was like: Get me out of here.”
So now listen up. We need to get these boxes the hell out of the warehouse. Meaning, if you are thinking of buying a set of figures, stop thinking, stop thinking immediately, and just do it. Feel, don’t think. Spend, don’t think. Be an American. Spend money you don’t have on something cool you don’t need. It’s only money. You’ll make more. I assure you, you will. But we might not make more of these Chinese-produced plastic hate effigies. Really, now, what would you rather be – safe, sane and sad, or devil-may-carefree and (momentarily) happy? Think about it. No wait, don’t think, stop, just do it!
I give money to beggars. Am I a sucker? Probably. Yes. I am a sucker. I’m proud to think that I am a sucker and not a mean, judgmental, suspicious tightwad. So in that one tiny respect I think that I am a little bit more like Jesus than I am like George W. Bush. And sometimes, that IS the choice we have to make.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journal, dated October 1848:
Every poem must be made up of lines that are poems.
via zhurnaly: Poetic Lines
(originally posted 2007-07-12, updated for micro.blog)
Overheard at the bagel store, when the sassy counter gal was teasing her male co-worker
Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter reproduced this fascinating document from WWI war hero and poet Siegfried Sassoon, denouncing the conduct of the war at great personal risk. It was originally printed in The Times in 1917.
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
From one of Jeanette Winterson’s latest columns, this one on why we need poetry:
And in the way of things, the memory gets used to being fed something more useful than crossword puzzles, and will deliver you the lines you need, when you need them. Poetry, because it has rhythm and because it is made out of breath, is easy to remember. It fits under the tongue like a slowly dissolving pill, but there are no side-effects – well maybe there is one; the next time you open your mouth to speak, something of the poem stays with you, and laces your response. In that way, poetry makes poets out of all of us, enlivening our personal capacity to speak with feeling and with an honesty that comes of being able to find the right words.
The world without the people who matter to us is not the same world and so not the world at all. Life becomes progressively stranger as we get older - and we become increasingly frantic to keep it familiar, to keep it in order - because people keep changing the world for us by dying out (mourning is better described as orientation, the painful wondering whether it is worth re-placing oneself).
Courtesy Netflix, I saw Orson Welles’ F for Fake, a fascinating document. I saw it, listened to the commentaries, and saw it again. It’s a dense, layered, rich lasagna that uses fakery to talk about fakery. It has some bravura editing for the time (1974 or 1976, sources vary) and includes some very personal Wellesian material.
The Wikipedia page on F for Fake includes the following passage, where Welles muses on the anonymous artists and craftsmen who built Chartres Cathedral.
Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust; to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades, or a millennium or two, but everything must fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash: the triumphs and the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life … we’re going to die. “Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced - but what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.
(originally posted in 2006-04-15, updated for micro.blog)
From NY Times’ William Grimes review of the book Beyond Coincidence:
The award for the most painful coincidence in recorded history must go to the poet Simon Armitage, who chanced upon a used copy of a book of his poems in a trash bin outside a thrift store. On the title page was the following inscription, in his own handwriting: “To Mum and Dad."
From the NY Times obit of John Fowles.
As much as it frustrated some of his readers, Mr. Fowles always believed he had done the right thing by leaving the endings of his most celebrated novels open-ended. But he was not above bending his own rules when the occasion called for it.
He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of “The Magus,” was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. “Yes, of course they were,” Mr. Fowles replied.
By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of “The Magus.” “Why can’t you say what you mean, and for God’s sake, what happened in the end?” the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter “horrid” but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: “They never saw each other again."
From Melvyn Bragg’s latest In Our Time newsletter:
Monica Grady’s other mission seems to be to stop her students saying “due to” when they ought to say “owing to” or “because of”. She pointed out that in the case of libraries, babies and rent you can use “due to”, everything else is “owing to” or “because of”.
I had this on my office wall many many years ago, and can’t find the source again. But I think I remember it word-for-word:
True Work is that which occupies the mind and the heart, as well as the hands. It has a beginning and an ending. It is the overcoming of difficulties one thinks important for the sake of results one thinks valuable.
I read to Liz before she goes to bed, and lately, we’ve settled on memoirs. The first was a joyous treat, Milking the Moon.
Tonight, we just finished Barbara Holland’s When All The World Was Young.
These quotes are from the end of the book, where at 18, after being turned out of her family’s house and dwelling in deep depression, she gets a job at Hecht’s department store in Washington, DC, and her life takes a sharp turn to happiness. The time is the early 1950s.
It was an era of lavish employment. Since then, the Personnel Department, with its echo of “personal,” has been replaced by Human Resources, with its echo of iron ore, petroleum, and other profit potentials, but those were softer days…
She describes how companies in that era kept on incompetent employees, provided free access to a doctor, and other perks.
Cynics might say that this corporate kindliness was designed to forestall the unions–which it did–but kindness is kindness and I lapped it up like a stray cat. Starting out in this generous atmosphere shaped my whole working life as a lark: jobs should be fun and bosses gentle, if not this one, then the next; plenty more where this one came from. Nobody nowadays expects to have fun at work. They want to get rich instead, but I could see from the start that the two were probably incompatible; too much pay would mean taking the work seriously. Believing it was important. The less money I needed to make, the more elbow room I’d have for fun. I held firm to this resolve through good times and bum times…
…Virginia Woolf, speaking from a different world, said what we needed, what women needed, was “a room of one’s own” and a modest allowance so we wouldn’t be distracted by money worries. But under what guarantee? What happens when our benefactor whimsically cancels the lease on our room and cuts off our funds? No, Mrs. Woolf. A job, Mrs. Woolf.
(originally posted 2005-05-28, updated for micro.blog)
From Essays in Love by Alain de Botton:
It is hard to imagine Christianity having achieved such success without a martyr at its head. If Jesus had simply led a quiet life in Galilee, making commodes and dining tables and at the end of his life published a slim volume titled My Philosophy of Life before dying of a heart attack, he would not have acquired the status he did.
(originally posted 2005-05-22, updated for micro.blog)
Quotes from Journal Of Things New and Old by Arnold Bennett (about 1923)
All political parties in all countries disappear sooner or later, except the Conservative, and the Conservative is immortal because it is never for long divided against itself. How many times in Britain has the Liberal Party split? The first and most powerful instinct of Tories is self-preservation. They do not really want anything but the status quo.
The best part of a holiday is that daily habits and rituals are broken.
When a good novel falls away at the end or near the end, it’s because the writer simply ran out of power. He miscalculated his creative strength. Nobody can pour a quart out of a pint pot.
[Man, was that ever true in the case of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass. The middle part of the book was strong and powerful. The coda in the Emerald City was anti-climactic and sodden by comparison. And I could tell King was trying to goose it along, trying to make the characters frightened and anxious. But it only made me annoyed. The book’s real story had been told and this last bit was simply the connective tissue to get them moving back along the Path of the Beam.]
[Attending the performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko lifted his spirits regarding his in-progress novel.]
A novel in process of creation has to be lifted up … [maybe] again and again. The large mood for it has to be recaptured again and again, to work its miracle there is nothing so efficacious as the sight or hearing of a great work of art – any art. Many times have I gone into the National Gallery, or to a fine concert … to recover the right mood.
An artist engaged in a work ought never to read or see or hear second-class stuff. If he does, he realizes the resemblances between his work and the second-class; and is discouraged. Whereas if he sticks to first-class stuff, he realizes the resemblances between his work and it, and is enheartened thereby.
It is well not to chatter too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so many hours out of every day, and therefore not really living. It will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one’s self, one has quite all one can do.
Can you deny that when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy, the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day?
(originally posted 2005-05-22, updated for micro.blog)
Anthony Lane, in an excellent appraisal of PG Wodehouse in The New Yorker (April 19 & 26, 2004 - not online), includes this quote from Marcel Proust:
Reading becomes dangerous when instead of waking us to the personal life of the spirit, it tends to substitute itself for it, when truth no longer appears to us as an ideal we can realize only through the intimate progress of our thought and the effort of our heart, but as a material thing, deposited between the leaves of books like honey ready-made by others, and which we have only to take the trouble of reaching for on the shelves of the libraries and then savoring passively in perfect repose of body and mind.
…When you fall afoul of the real world, your exploration of the unreal will grow ever more quizzical and devout. Comedy is still our least bestial way of admonishing the wreckage of our lives–no animal has ever laughed–but too much comedy, or nothing but comedy, has a subtle, feline habit of pushing our lives so far away from us that they cease, as if in a dream, to be our responsibility…The journey that is charted in Uncle Eric’s Wodehouse collection, in the self-persuading chatter of his annotations, is a journey away from the great things–from the predations of love and war–into the wavelike soothings of the small.
…Like many of us, [Uncle Eric] wanted the good life, or, failing that, the quiet life, and he found that it was most readily available between hard covers….There are times when the quest for good, or the belief that the good and quiet life are all that matters, can shrivel into a minor kind of evil–when the desire to be innocent, unfoxed by the dust and dirt of relationahips, and unscraped by the presence of people very different from ourselves, can dwindle into the loneliness of the bigot. We have to give a damn.
Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation, I had tossed aside the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair, I fell into a brown study.
World Wide Words helpfully provides an etymology for the phrase “brown study.”
For reasons known not even to myself, I’ve chosen it or forms of it for my online moniker since the early 2000s.
(originally written 01 Jan 2005, revised for micro.blog)