Commonplace Book

"Books I could get along without"

“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.”


Alfred-Kazin/Journals/book

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)

"No birdsong in the hedgerow"

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).

"Boots and hats and pocketknives"

“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

Seth Godin: "A great way to give thanks"

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.

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

"Balance is boring"

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!

7 Rules for Dialogue

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.

ELIZABETH BOWEN 


7 Rules for Dialogue

Three physical words for mental health

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.

"The enemy"

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)

Science is boring!

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"

Terry Teachout on the Mystery of Music and Great Art

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.

Sightings: Terry Teachout on the Mystery of Music - WSJ.com

Harlan Ellison:

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.

Like baby rats

stevereads: The Queen Victoria Series!

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.

Good fiction

stevereads: the New Yorker Fiction Issue in the Penny Press!

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.