Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

“It’s as if a sepia tint has been imposed onto a thoroughly fluorescent-lit world.”

Book: My Misspent Youth: Essays by Meghan Daum

This was easy breezy reading, which is nice for my current post-finals brain coma. She’s smart, funny, and just self-deprecating enough to be down to earth without throwing a pity party. It’s littered with English major jokes (as in, I was an English major and now I’m broke just like all the other English majors LOLOLOLOL!), which I enjoyed. As a collection, the essays are pretty disjointed and varied in terms of style, content, length, genre, etc, but she brings that up in the prologue and as far as I’m concerned her self-awareness makes it all okay. I also suppose it’s also very much a “generation” piece, which helps give it cohesion. Anyhow, it’s entertaining and smart and thoughtful. I’d compare her to Sloane Crosley, Jancee Dunn, David Sedaris, with maybe a little Chuck Klosterman in there.

———–

“If anything, this book is about not knowing what things are about and trying to sort matters out by using one’s personal experiences and observations as a tool.”

“stay speaking from experience,

the word aesthetic is a turn-off”

“the condition that I feel most strongly affects the way we as humans go about the business of living our lives: our habit of expressing ourselves through the trappings of particular ideas rather than through the substance of those ideas.”

“they are all about the way intense life experiences take on the qualities of scenes from movies.”

“the tendency of contemporary human beings to live no actual lives but simulations of lives, loving not actual people but the general idea of those people, operating at several degrees of remove from what might be considered authentic if we weren’t trying so hard to create authenticity through songs and clothes and advertisements and a million other agents of realness. In other words, this book is about a world ruled by accessories, about a citizenry that expresses its tastes, its politics, its dreams, and its heartbreaks via the trinkets on its shelves. “

“I am always warmed by an unsolicited gesture of admiration or encouragement, amazed that anyone would bother, shocked that communication from a stranger could be fueled by anything other than an attempt to get a job or make what the professional world as come to call “a connection.””

“I have a constant, low-grade fear of the telephone. I often call people with the intention of getting their answering machines. There is something about the live voice that has become startling, unnervingly organic, as volatile as incendiary talk radio.”

“email had become an electronic epistle, a yearned-for rule book. The black and white of the type, the welcome respite from the distractions of smells and weather and other people, had, in effect, allowed us to be vulnerable and passionate enough to actually care about something. It allowed us to do what was necessary to experience love. It was not the internet that contributed to our remote, fragmented lives. The problem was life itself.”

“It terrifies me to admit to a firsthand understanding of the way the heart and ego are entwined. Like diseased trees that have folded in on one another, our need to worship fuses with our need to be worshipped. Love eventually becomes only about how much mystique can be maintained. It upsets me even more to see how this entanglement is made so much more intense, so unhampered and intoxicating, by way of a remote access like email.”

“There are a few hold-outs from the “literary” camp, to be sure (the assistant may find herself remarking on the fact that here, in the world of books, “literature” is considered a category as specific as “hw to” or “occult”) but there seems to be a disproportionate number of Oprah bios, guides to better sexual relationships, and Near-Death Experience books, slugged for those on the inside as N.D.E. “A new N.D.E. title,” screams the publisher, dollar signs glowing in her contact lenses. “Isn’t this to die for?” To the publisher, N.D.E. means big excitement and big bucks. To the assistant it can also stand for “not doing editing,” or “not drinking enough.”

“We’re secretaries fully versed in Derrida, receptionists who have read Proust in French. This is a land of girls. There are always at least ten of “us” for everyone one of “him.” We’ve got decent shoes. We’ve got B.A.s in English from fancy schools, expensive haircuts, expensive bags, and cheap everything else. We’ve got the studio apartment with the half-eaten one-hundred-calorie yogurt in the mini-fridge. We’ve got one message flashing on the answering machine (it’s Mom again), bad TV reception, and a pile of manuscripts to read before bedtime.”

“It’s as if a sepia tint has been imposed onto a thoroughly fluorescent-lit world.”

“I’ve always been somebody who exerts a great deal of energy trying to get my realities to match my fantasies, even if the fantasies are made from materials that are no longer manufactured, even if some governmental agency has assessed my aspirations and pronounced them a health hazard.”

“I’ve historically been pretty good at getting by on what I have, especially if you apply the increasingly common definition of “getting by,” which has more to do with keeping up appearances than keeping things under control. Like a social smoker whose supposedly endearing desire to emulate Marlene Dietrich has landed her in a cancer ward, I have recently woken up to the frightening fallout of my own romantic notions of life in the big city: I am completely over my head in debt.”

“Self-entitlement has also contributed to my downfall, mostly because of my inability to recognize where ambition and chutzpah end and cold, hard cash begins.”

“Looking back, I see those years as a cheap, happy time. It was a time at which a certain kind of poverty was appropriate; anything ritzier would have been embarrassing.”

“Neither passenger nor pilot, the flight attendant is the liaison between the customer and the machine. She is somehow blonde even when she’s not blonde, a girl even when she’s a guy. Part bimbo and part Red Cross, she is charged with the nearly impossible task of calming the passenger down while evoking enough titillation to suggest that there remains, even in the twenty-first century, something special about air travel. “

“Just as air pressure will make one martini in the air equal two on the ground, the malaise of modern life extends its claws in cartoon-like proportions on an airplane. It’s a sickness aggravated by tiny bathrooms and recirculating air and laptop computers that allow no excuse to take a break from work.”

“While I can’t say that I had an unhappy childhood, I was unhappy being a child. Just as there has not been a morning of my adult life when I don’t wake up and thank the gods that I am no longer a kid, there was hardly a day between the ages of three and eighteen that I didn’t yearn for the time when I would be a grown-up. Aside from the usual headaches of being a kid—the restricted freedoms, the semi-citizenship—what really ailed me were the trappings of kid-dom: the mandatory hopscotch, the inane cartoons, the cutsey names ascribed to daycare enters and recreation programs, like Little Rascals Preschool and Tiny Tot Tumbling. Why was a simple burger and fries called The Lone Ranger? Why did something as basic as food have to be repackaged to resemble a toy? Even as a child I resented this lowbrow aesthetic—the alphabet-block designs on everything, the music-box soundtrack, the relentless kitsch of it all.

“I have always had a problem with science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Of all the subcultures that, for various neurotic reasons, provoke my disdain, none seem to bridle me quite as much as those comprised of people who appear to have forfeited real life for something they’re likely to characterize as “a quest.”

“Brian was a firm believer in not spending time doing anything that wasn’t enjoyable. The result is that he did very little; there was never much to enjoy.”

Filed under: Uncategorized,

“Hippie nutballs who looked at Portland, Oregon, and thought, This is way too urban; I have to get out of here.”

How Did You Get This Number: Essays by Sloane Crosley

FIRST of all, as far as cover art goes, this book wins. Who doesn’t want to read something with a very, very concerned looking bear on the front? I know I do. And so I did.

Sloane Crosley is hilarious in that new-agey David Sedaris/Dave Eggers/Chuck Klosterman way that I eat up like the spiced pumpkin-gingerbread that’s finally back in stores. Sedaris even writes a recommendation on the back of the book. Like AHWOSG, the chronology in this book was kind of hard to follow, but that could have just been because of my goldfish attention span. Either way, I don’t really care, because it’s hilarious anyway. Her writing is snappy and self-aware and a little self-deprecating but never, ever pathetic; it’s a whimsical narrative-essay (i use that made-up term loosely) littered with snippets of undeniable truth that may or may not be relevant to anything (i.e. Does it matter how quickly the Portuguese speak? Probably not. Is it a speed worth noting? Sure. On the other hand: is her reflection on having a learning disability a little heartbreaking? Totally. But it’s also funny, so I don’t feel like I’m reading a Nicholas Sparks novel. Not to shit all over him, because I happen to love the film adaptations of both The Notebook and A Walk To Remember–but there’s a time and a place for such plot lines; literature is not the place. I need Ryan Gosling and Shane West to pull me into the emotional fray). I digress. This book is great. Sloane Crosley is charming and funny and hip, and I want to be her friend, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be cool enough. So it goes.

ONWARD!

“To my parents. For everything.*

*Everything except the two-week period in 1995 directly following the time you went to Ohio for a wedding and I threw a party in the house, which is the most normal thing a teenage American can do, aside from lie about it, which I also did, and Mom eyed me suspiciously for days, morphing into a one-woman Scotland Yard, marching into my bedroom with a fistful of lint from the dryer to demonstrate that I had mysteriously washed all the towels, and then she waited until we were in a nice restaurant to scream, “Someone vomited on my couch, I know it!” and Dad took away my automotive privileges straight through college so that I spent the subsequent four years likening you both to Stasi foot soldiers, confined as I was to a campus-on-the-hill when I could have been learning how to play poker at the casinos down the road and making bad decisions at townie bars. I think we can all agree you overreacted.

For everything except that, I am profoundly grateful. I have only the greatest affection for you now. Also: I vomited on the couch.”

“A human being can spend only so much time outside her comfort zone before she realizes she is still tethered to it.”

“There was a time when your favorite color transferred from purple to blue to whatever shade it is when you realize having a favorite color is a trite personality crutch, an unsubtle cultivation of quirk and a possible cry for help.”

“Besides, a new decade is a chance to find oneself at the beginning of things. Oh, life. What a sweet little Etch A Sketch of time you are!”

“I wondered: did I speak English at the same speed they spoke Portuguese? It seemed unlikely. You know, I wanted to tell them, Portugal and Brazil may be the only hubs of your tongue in this world, but this is a language that’s out there. I mean, it’s around. The chances of there being more Portuguese to speak tomorrow are very good. No need to get it all out now.”

“Things were better during my genius years. I was eighteen months old when my mother found me in the living room with a pile of building blocks–counting and spelling as I stacked them. This wunderkind behavior continued, and as it is with oddities in children and the mothers who birthed them, mine called in a medical professional…

While my parents doted on me, overzealously plying me with brain food and brainteaser games, a healthy case of the stupids kicked in, offsetting my block-building brilliance.”

“But that’s the thing. A learning disability doesn’t exactly qualify as an emergency. It’s a subtle problem for everyone except the person who has it. Standing in the middle of the aisle with the shoppers buzzing around me, I told myself I would trade breaking a bone just once rather than continue with a lifetime of this crap. Because at least with a broken bone you get a cast or a sling. people see your problem coming. But how do you explain an eighteen-year-old trapped and teary-eyed in front of a pile of seasonal gourds? Where is her excuse?”

“It’s not a disability, it’s life. We are complicated creatures with larger matters on our plates than tip calculation. I grew up watching TV with my mother while she diagnosed the characters as having hyperactivity or attention-deficit disorder. I rolled my eyes and wondered why here weren’t any stupid kids anymore. Why did there have to be something to explain everyone? Were the cave people on Ritalin? I don’t think so.”

“So I turned to the mecca of desperation, the Internet.”

“It is impossible to be angry and write fake museum-exhibit copy at the same time.”

“I thought of how strange it is to follow anyone up the stairs. Your face is so close to their butt. It’s one of the unsung pleasures of riding inc abs–I have seen very little cabbie ass in my life. Whereas my fellow subway riders’ cheeks are thrust, shifting back and forth, in front of me every day, countless as stars.”

“It’s never good to fall in love with someone whom you’d have to stab in the eyeballs to elicit a response.”

“It’s why I was never comfortable with night-lights. They were unnatural. Plus, if they worked for me would they not also work for the eighteen-eyed monster hiding in the closet? Bitch has eight eyes. She can see a night-light. Best to level the playing field.”

“Here is a list of the six types of Alaskan residents, not including native tribes: 

1. Military personnel
2. State-builders
3. Nature enthusiasts (by which I mean raw, in-your-face nature; bird-watching is for house cats)
4. Hippie nutballs who looked at Portland, Oregon, and thought, This is way too urban; I have to get out of here.
5. People who have at one point done something very illegal involving a sawed-off shotgun and freezer bags
6. This guy:

When I boarded my flight to Anchorage in Chicago, I went to wedge my trashy magazines into the polyester pouch in front of me. There was something more substantial than usual in there between the SkyMall catalog and the safety card. It was a library book. I was intrigued. It was like finding an abandoned toy in a random bathroom stall, but less creepy. I let the pocket snap shut before opening it again. On the spine in big, bold letters, it read: The Amityville Horror: A True Story. Nope, just as creepy.

Passengers were still streaming down the aisle, clutching their boarding passes and looking above the seats, as if trying to remember the alphabet. I quickly shoved the book into the pouch to my right and tried to forget about it. My seatmate turned out to be a state-builder Alaskan. His grandfather had a small bay named after him. He was on his way home to visit his mother, who made custom shotgun cases.

“She does not.”

“Well, no”—he looked at me thoughtfully—“she doesn’t make the cases themselves, but you should see what she does with them.”

I imagined this man’s mother in a floral muumuu, beating the shit out of a sea otter on the front porch.

“We are only as good as our most extreme experiences”
[on Sarah Palin:] “the worst Alaskan PR tragedy since Jewel started publishing poetry or–as even Earl put it–”the time that moron walked into the woods to die in a bus.” Each time Palin winks at the world, one of my Alaskan friends feels a deep pang of shame.”
“People tend to be more tofu-like, able to absorb whatever environment they’re dropped into. But where does the adaptability end and your actual personality begin?”

I did not make this drawing. I found this drawing! And I think Sloane Crosley would approve of this drawing.

Filed under: Sloane Crosley

“And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, at all events.”

Text: Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

In the past 2 days, I have done a spectacular amount of screwing up. All in minor ways, but still. It’s irritating. I hate screwing up.

But I love Rilke. And I love this book/collection of letters. However, I think the title is misleading: I don’t think they’re necessarily letters to a young poet, or any literary/scholarly type…they’re just letters to anyone who is young. Or has been young once. Because for the record, I do not consider myself a “Young Poet,” nor have I really ever been one (unless we want to redefine “poet”).

I love Rilke because he points me to a new perspective on screwing up. Rilke reminds me that screwing up is inevitable, and a screwup is no cause for frustrated self-condemnation. Rilke knows what it’s like to be a kid who desperately wants to do things right, yet somehow doesn’t always quite do it.  Rilke shifts my eye off the screwups, and back onto the processes before me: “it is a matter of living everything,” not “doing everything right the first time god-damnit!” Rilke advocates self-forgiveness. Rilke makes my insides feel all warm and fuzzy, even though my outsides are covered in sandy mulch and my upper legs are still tender from hot coffee burns and I owe two people replacement possessions (these past few screwups happen to be of the more hilarious variety; ask me about them sometime).

Oh, and Rilke says brilliant things about love. Because they’re not just cute and “aww” inducing—they are so true that the first time I read them I didn’t understand a damn thing, and in a year or two I’ll probably understand them ten times more than I do now. So be sure to read the quotes on love (maybe I’ll finally upload my underlines from his “Love and Other Difficulties” collection sometime soon, yes?)

Ok. Enuff rambling. Read forth! And do let me know what you think about them! I like the art ones, though I’m not sure I understand them entirely; and to be honest, I’m not so sure about the 2nd—sometimes I do think it’s fair to attribute one’s unhappiness to an unsustainable lifestyle and make changes to that rather than trying to “summon up its riches” (potential examples: the chronic overworker? Someone in an unhealthy relationship?).

————-

“In making contact with a work of art nothing serves so ill as words of criticism: the invariable result is more or less happy misunderstandings. Things are not all so comprehensible and utterable as people would mostly have us believe; most events are unutterable, consummating themselves in a sphere where word has never trod, and more unutterable than them all are works of art, whose life endures by the side of our own that passes away.”

“If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.”

“Seek for the depth of things—there irony never descends.”

“Nothing is there that had not been understood, conceived, experienced and recognized in the vibrating echo of memory; no experience has been too slight, and the smallest happening unfolds like a destiny, and the destiny itself is like a wonderful broad tapestry where every thread is inwoven by an infinitely delicate hand, laid next to its fellow, and held and supported by a hundred others.”

Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.”

“To love is also good: for love is difficult. Fondness between human beings: that is perhaps the most difficult task that is set us, the ultimate thing, the final trial and test, the work for which all other work is only preparation. Therefore young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot know love yet: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their strength gathered about their lonely, fearful, upward beating heart, they must learn to love.”

“Loving in the first instance is nothing that can be called losing, surrendering and uniting oneself to another…it is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature, to grow into something in himself, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him and summons him to a distant goal.”

“So you must not be frightened…when a sorrow rises up before you, greater than you have ever seen before; when a restlessness like light and cloud shadows passes over your hands and over all your doing. You must think that something is happening upon you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to exclude any disturbance, any pain, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what these conditions are working upon you?”

“Always wish that you might be able to find patience enough in yourself to endure, and single-heartedness enough to believe; that you might win increasing trust in what is difficult, and in your solitude among other people. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, at all events.”

“Art too is only a way of living, and one can prepare for it, living somehow, without knowing it; in everything real one is a closer, nearer neighbor to it than in the unreal semi-artistic professions.”

I personally thing the teens are the worst...

I personally think that anything's better than being a teenager.

Filed under: Rainer Maria Rilke,

No time for poetry but exactly what is

Blogkeeping notes: if you’re unfamiliar with wordpress, I have now made the “subscribe” option big and prominent (the button to the right of this post). Basically, if you want to receive an email notification every time I update, hit that up. Also, submit recommendations to my “Coming Up” page! The link to that is also to the right, just above my “Index” link. Finally, wanna comment but are confused? The button to do that is at the top of the post, to the right of the date and time.

Love and popsicles,

Emilie

Text: Belief and Techniques for Modern Prose, a list by Jack Kerouac

This post is obviously of a slightly different nature, since I’m not actually taking excerpts at all. Rather, I’m including the text (a very short list) in its entirety and bolding my favorite nuggets.

So. Kerouac. I think he’s great, brilliant, liberating, a pioneer, etc etc just like a lot of 20 year olds. But I don’t really think he’s God. I mean, I enjoyed On The Road, but I was…dare I say it?…bored in parts. I thought certain sections ran on a lot farther than my attention span could handle, and amounted little more than cracked-out rambling. Le gasp. I don’t know if that makes me less poetic or literary or scholarly or whatever, but it’s what I felt. And I feel a lot of silly things sometimes! That is to say: my review/impression of a book is never set in stone. Maybe someday I’ll come into the epic universal light of writerly wisdom and “understand.”

Regardless, I still love a lot of On The Road (heyyyy I should type up my underlines sometime), and I think his collection of Haikus is probably one of my favorites (especially the wacky drawings that were included in my copy! Jack Kerouac=the world’s most underrated doodle-artist!). And I really need to read Dharma Burns.

Anyhow, I found this list a few years back while researching for an AP English V (OHHHH lordy) project, and promptly taped it to my wall. I especially like the bolded points, obviously–my fave has to be “be in love with yr life.” Wise words, Kerouac. Wise words indeed. A few of the statements seem suspiciously like any other drugged-up hippie’s tagline, but I suppose that doesn’t necessarily render them worthless. And on grayer days I tend to scowl at parts of it (the other day, for instance, I misplaced my iPod…and eventually found it in the freezer. So no, Jack Kerouac, I’m not actually a genius all of the time.), but I can see a sort of usefulness in the beliefs themselves, if that makes sense? (If Jack Kerouac hadn’t told himself he was such a genius, he might have been too busy being self-deprecating to write anything at all).

So: whatcha think!? I guess I question how well this philosophy served him, since he died young and spent a good portion of his time here drunk/high out of his mind, bringing up the “can drug addiction/mental illness ever be ultimately beneficial to artistic productivity” debate–any thoughts on that?Also, I’d love to hear people’s interpretations of the more ambiguous lines, or responses to the more straightforward!

——

BELIEF AND TECHNIQUES FOR MODERN PROSE

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
Sometimes illusions are the solutions?

Sometimes illusions are solutions?

Filed under: Uncategorized,

“He is constructed entirely of the stories he tells, like the scaffolding around a building still unbuilt.”

Book: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as a winter-type person. Not of the winter-type color palette—that’s a different measurement, and I think I’m an Autumn—but of the variety of person who thrives in Winter and survives in Summer. Maybe it’s thanks to all the Texas summers—after 18 years, I considered myself very “over it” with regards to warm weather; I preferred rain, fuzzy sweaters, and burrowing.

I still appreciate those things in moderation, but after the great winter-that-wouldn’t-end of Portland 2k10, I’ve been rethinking my commitment to this “winter-type” label. Because dare I say it: I’m kind of enjoying the sudden and long-awaited extreme-heat wave, or at least am grateful for its displacing the chilly gloom. Plus, I like flip flops and slurpees. I like not having goosebumps and damp hair. I like it when the livin’s easy and I can indulge in sappy country music, mindless chick flicks, lots of driving, and not much wallowing. It’s a very fluffly mindset, this “Summer” thing, but I think there just might be something to it.

Thus, I’m basically on a mission to have a wallow-free July. God knows come the rainy season I’ll need all the practice I can get at avoiding the doldrums.

However, this book did not really fit into my new lifestyle-mission. This is definitely a winter-type book. It’s gritty. It’s depressing. It’s dark. But it’s also poetic, and fascinating, and definitely worth my time! Like a lot of addiction memoirs, it started to drag and/or feel redundant in parts (comparable to James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces) but actually really picked up towards the end. I appreciate that he ended it with neither an angsty yell nor a perfectly packaged/tied-with-a-bow/add-a-cherry-on-top/kiss-and-make-up Happily-Ever-After—rather, he offers a more Buddhist, open-ended “conclusion” that resolves itself with more questions than answers.

In some ways it offers a case study of the US homeless “system” (and also the prison system, come to think of it) so if you have any interest in that field, it could be right up yr alley. On the other hand, the narrative’s primarily driven by Flynn’s relationship with his crazy-ass father, so if you tend to like family-related memoirs, this is a prime example. Even if neither of those topics particularly interest you, if you like compelling writing separated into pretty experimental vignettes, it’s still worth a shot! The guy can definitely write circles around most people. I also think Flynn seems to challenge himself in writing it–he’s not out to make himself look good. Oh oh & it also carries the writing-about-the-process-of-being-a-writer thread, which is always interesting to me. And a lot of water metaphors. So many water metaphors. They’re cool though! Finally, if you get ¾ of the way in and are bored, power through! I rarely say this because I am a very lazy reader, but I think this ending was worth the lag.

Comment! If you’ve read the book, or if the quotes are interesting to you, or if you have questionzzzz, or anything to say.

Sunshine and blackberries,

Emilie

————-

“The phone beside hers never rings, like a toy, like a prop.”

“If I let him inside I would become him, the line between us would blur, my own slow-motion car wreck would speed up. The slogan on the side of a moving company truck read TOGETHER WE ARE GOING PLACES—modified by a vandal or a disgruntled employee to read TOGETHER WE ARE GOING DOWN. If I went to the drowning man the drowning man would pull me under. I wouldn’t be his life raft.”

“Mirrors are screwed to the walls along the benches the guests sit on while they undress, only these mirrors are made of stainless steel, not glass—glass could break, become a weapon. Someone might punch the face looking the wrong way back at him. The screws that attach the metal to the wall cause slight indentations, the indentations cause distortions, creating a funhouse effect. Your head in this mirror, if held at a certain level, becomes massive. Your chin vanishes. Move slightly and you can have superman arms, or a belly that takes over your body. You can open your mouth and it keeps on opening, becomes your whole head. Some of the drunk guys, some of the psych guys, you see them, halfway naked on a bench, staring at their reflections, open-mouthed—When did I become a gargoyle?”

“Sometimes the psych guys will start drinking, some call it “self-medicating” but it looks like clinging to an anvil in the middle of the sea.”

“For almost twenty years, since high school, he has identified himself as a writer, but he has yet to write much, beyond notes scribbled out on cocktail napkins, titles for his novels-to-be.”

“I crawl toward my father’s face as we lay on the grass beside a whitewalled tire—a snapshot, an artifact—evidence that at some point, at least once, I was an infant in his arms. The father as ship, as vessel, holding the child afloat. But there was a parallel father as well—the drunk, the con, the paranoid. The father as ship, but taking on water, going down.”

“By the time I’m nine I know the world is a dangerous place.”

“Fact: In 1878 Benjamin Disraeli said: You are not listening now, but one day you will hear me.

“Most of the job consists of learning how to hide, of how to appear busy, of killing time. In this way it’s a continuation of my twelve years of public high school. Hiding seems the point of everything.

I’m going nowhere, and not very fast.”

“I see no end to being lost. You can spend your entire life simply falling in that direction. It isn’t a station you reach but just the general state of going down. Once you make it back, if you make it back, you will stand before your long-lost friends but in some essential way they will no longer know you.”

“Water can be a symbol of purification, to stand naked before someone a sign of truth, of nothing to hide. A chalice can hold a sacrament, a chalice can hold poison. Nakedness can be both a threat and an offering. Archimedes lowered himself into a tub and formulated the laws of mass and density. Eureka! Water is the universal solvent! But water also drowns, rivers rise and breach their banks, fields become mud, family photo albums fatten, teacups float from cupboards.”

“Some inner radar keeps them alive, they stagger through the storm, blind drunk and goofy until they find the steam and then they fall. Like coming upon an oasis in the desert, their bodies melt into the grates, the steam seeps into their coats, into their pores. It’s another prison, these blowers, because once you’ve landed you cannot leave, not if there is nowhere to go, not without a destination, because one step off the blower is cold, hypothermia cold, now that you are sodden. Blankets rise off your body in the fan’s heat, hang above your sleep like a dream before sailing off into the slush.”

“Wake up on the grass, soaking wet. Dew is the piss of God. Another bullshit night in suck city, my father mutters.”

“Writers, especially poets, are particularly prone to madness. There exists a striking association between creativity and manic depression.

Why are more creative people prone to madness? They have more than average amounts of energies and abilities to see things in a fresh and original way—then because they also have depression, I think they’re more in touch with human suffering.”

We arouse pity by cultivating the most repulsive wounds.”

“An affair is a room to disappear into for a few hours, another place to hide.”

“As shelter workers I suggest we print up t-shirts that read, THE HOMELESS PAY MY RENT, but no one else things it’s funny.”

Read as much as you can. Write only when you feel the inner need to do so. And don’t ever rush into print.

Eventually he made a business of being a failure—if he was close to success he would sabotage it. The one role he held on to was that of being a great undiscovered writer—it allowed him to lash out in anger, it became his job to straighten the world out, to point to exactly how he’d been mistreated. The art world allowed him to get away with extravagant and excessive behavior, it encouraged it. His life became a raging performance piece, scripted by Jonathan Flynn. This allowed him to stay in control of something in his life. It became all presentation.”

“He is constructed entirely of the stories he tells, like the scaffolding around a building still unbuilt.”

“Is there one essential story, is it the story of his masterpiece, as yet, forever, undone?”

“but, like his life, it soon falls apart, dissipates into incoherence. What would I do if it was a masterpiece, an overooked classic? What then? Would our blood be redeemed? Would time be made whole? Would I still have such ambivalence about calling myself a poet?

“Perhaps the story of his masterpiece is his life raft, what he’s invented to keep himself afloat.”

“The shelter was meant to be a waystation, a halfway house, but halfway to where wasn’t specified. The cot and the roof and the plate of food were only meant to tide one over. It was never meant to be a life raft. Even a life raft is only supposed to get you from the sinking ship back to land, you were never intended to live in the life raft, to drift, years on end, in sight of land but never close enough.”

At least there is one?

At least there is one?

Filed under: Nick Flynn,

“Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

Book (or in this case, essay): “Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dave Eggers might be my celebrity crush, but Ralph Waldo here is my literary deity. I read this when I was sixteen (holla Bilhartz English IIIh!) and my angsty little heart asploded with its perfect wisdom; four years and five million rereads later, it’s still asploding. These are my comfort words. What ginger ale does to an ailing stomach, this essay does to a faltering sense of self. Or at least, it’s my best home remedy.

I could gush more but the essay really speaks for itself, I think. Oh, & I obvi recommend Emerson’s other stuff, too–especially the “First Series” collection of essays. But this is definitely my favorite. Srsly, what a rad dude! I salute you, RWE.

———

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.

A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world

Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none.

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future.

There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike.

Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.

Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places…But the rage of traveling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the traveling of the mind?

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun.

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

We've all been thur, Gavin!

Filed under: Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“NEVER GIVE AN INCH.”

Book: Sometimes A Great Notion, by Ken Kesey

Today was a good day. The weather didn’t crap all over my head or worsen my vitamin D deficiency; they played quality entertainment on the TVs at the gym, significantly increasing the duration of my workout; all my culinary endeavors turned out quite well (Pita bread french toast triangles! It works!) (& so do these muffins!) (& so do hard-boiled eggs) (those are a lot easier to screw up than you’d think, okay…). Anyhow, my mood rates at a happiness level of orange, I’d say–that is, pretty chipper. Mellow, perhaps. Or at least as close to mellow as I am capable of getting.

Which is probably the appropriate mindset from which one should approach this book: not starving for instant narrative gratification, & ready to go along for a rather long ride. I found it a bit rambly in parts, but ultimately well worth the time spent. Kesey is clever and funny in terms of style, and very wise indeed in terms of message. A winning combination! His tone is kind of…gruff, maybe? Yet behind that voice his narrator says some pretty adorable/romantic lines–and the juxtaposition is endearing. Cuckoo’s Nest was probz more ‘my jam,’ if you will, but I think that says more about my personal literary alley than a difference in the quality of the two books–they’re both great. I kept the quotes pretty short because the book was so long. N-Joi!

——

That Man will oppose everything except a Hand Extended; that he will stand up in the face of every hazard except Lonely people; that for the sake of his poorest and shakiest and screwiest principles he will lay down his life, endure pain, ridicule, and even, sometimes, that most demeaning of American hardships, but will relinquish his firmest stand for love.

Love—and all its complicated ramifications, Draeger believed—actually does conquer all; Love—or the Fear of Not Having It, or the Worry about Not Having Enough of It, or the Terror of Losing it—certainly does conquer all. To Draeger this knowledge was a weapon; he had learned it young and for a quarter-century of well-mannered and enormous success, conquering a world rendered simple, safe, and predictable by his iron-hammered faith.

Look…Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, and also a damn sight holier.

To begin devoting their restless energies to pursuits more tangible than wandering, more practical than walking, pursuits like business and community and church.

But that’s just what you did not know. You knew the cursed look of wanderlust but you did not know the hell that lust was leading you into. You must go through a winter first…

But I say a man can get accustomed, get comfortable and accustomed to emptiness, just the way he can get accustomed to the cold or accustomed to the dark.

It all just came so downright thick and fast that I knew I could never get accustomed to it. But I do not mean that. I mean I had no choice but do as I did; God as my witness…I had no choice!

(She had a funny way of looking, too, that was like a bird looked: you know, with the head turned, never dead at something, but kind of past it, past it like she could see something nobody else could see; and whatever it was she saw sometimes scared her like a ghost. “I’m lonely,” she says.)

Maybe they’re like cork boots; with corks It don’t make no matter how long since you quit wearing ‘em because once you been used to going around with ‘em, then the ground underfoot is always gonna seems slippery and strange without—though you maybe been wearing oxfords for years and years.

“Men are forever eager to press drink upon those they consider their superiors, hoping thereby to eliminate that distinction between them.”

Hell, I sighed, exiled even from the sanctuary of insanity. What a drag. Madness might have been a good way to explain terror and excuse anarchy, I mooned, a good whipping boy to blame in the event of mental discomfort, an interesting avocation to while away the long afternoon of life. What a crashing drag…
You can never tell: it might have constituted as bad a drag as sanity…Yes, I sighed again, in the long run insanity would be the same old coldhearted drag of too solid flesh, too many sings and arrows, and too much outrageous fortune.

And like: “Why should one want to wake up dead anyway?” If the glorious birth-to-death hassle is the only we are ever to have…if our grand and exhilarating Flight of Life is such a tragically short little scrap anyway, compared to the eons of rounds before and after—then why should one want to relinquish even a few precious seconds of it?

“Man is certain of nothing but his ability to fail. It is the deepest faith we have, and the unbeliever—the blasphemer, the dissenter—will stimulate in us the most righteous of furies.”

There’s times when the only way you can win is by being weak, by losing, by doing your worst instead of your best.

What am I doing here? I had managed up until then to avoid this problem by treating it facetiously, as demonstrated above, or by passing it off with vague fantasies about heroically measuring up or righteously pulling down. But now that I was being confronted by the demon work…which would it be?


“You must go through winter to get some notion…”

Perhaps the epitome of giving 0 inches?

Filed under: Ken Kesey,

“But what I would do too is the hardest thing for me, with my absurd streak of idealism and perfectionism…”

Book: The Journals of Sylvia Plath

The sun is shining (a novel situation ’round these parts…thanks Portland); the birds are chirping; the world cup is almost over and I’ll get to sleep in again soon (thanks neighbors). My coffee has a decadent cardamom hint to it–a brilliant idea i discovered at some Indian restaurant–and next week is my summer vacation from work. Life is good.

But here I am, reading Sylvia Plath! Many individuals, I suspect, would say that something in this picture is not right. They are wrong! I am here to tell you: just because I am no longer the stereotypical Sylvia Plath reader dressed in mostly black who doggedly refuses to smile, doesn’t mean I no longer read (and love) Sylvia Plath.

This is one of the most-read books on my shelf for many more reasons than my stint with profound teenage angst. It’s easy to pick up when I need something to pass those 10 minutes between bedtime and sleeptime; its contents are very real and often (at least tangentially) relevant to my own experiences; finally, Plath’s writing is just plain gorgeous. She’s just undeniably brilliant, as far as I’m concerned. Seriously. Read her journals; read her poems (especially the Ariel collection); read The Bell Jar. I will always have a deep love for Ms. Plath. And I want to encourage people to resist the two misconceptions that seem to follow her name:

1) Oven jokes aren’t funny. If you want dark humor, google search dead baby jokes til you find the one about trash cans and laugh your ass off (I’m sorry if anyone out there takes offense at dead baby jokes, I really am). But yeah, laugh at that instead. Sylvia Plath didn’t want to die–she wanted her depression to die. Let’s not mock the fact that it took her with it. Which brings me to…

2) There is nothing glamorous about suicide or mental illness. Please, please, please read my favorite paragraph of Prozac Nation–the second to last excerpt (the last bolded paragraph) on this page. Because I don’t think it’s said enough: there is nothing appealing about madness. Nothing. It is nothing more than a loss. There are better places for creative drive to come from–less costly places.

R.I.P. Sylvia Plath.

Lawdy that was long! To make up for it, I resisted the temptation to recopy the entire book, and chose my excerpts carefully. I’d love to hear your responses, to my rambling or to Ms. Plath. Without further ado!

————-

It would be easy to say I would fight for you, or steal or lie; I have a great deal of that desire to use myself to the hilt, and where, for men, fighting is a cause, for women, fighting is for men. In a crisis, it is easy to say: I will arise and be with thee. But what I would do too is the hardest thing for me, with my absurd streak of idealism and perfectionism: I do believe I would sit around with you and feed you and wait with you through all the necessary realms of tables and kingdoms of chairs and cabbage for those fantastic few moments when we are angels, and we are growing angels and when we together make the world love itself and incandesce.

the kind of radiance that suddenly comes over you when I look at you dressing or shaving or reading and you are suddenly more than the daily self we must live with and love, that fleeting celestial self which shines out with the whimsical timing of angels.

that confident surge of exuberance in which I wrote you has dwindled as waves do, to the knowledge that makes me cry, just this once: such a minute fraction of this life do we live: so much is sleep, tooth-brushing, waiting for mail, for metamorphosis, for those sudden moments of incandescence: unexpected, but once one knows them, one can live life in the light of their past and the hope of their future.

in my head I know it is too simple to wish for war, for open battle, but one cannot help but wish for those situations that make us heroic. living to the hilt of our total resources. our cosmic fights, when I think the end of the world is come, are so many broken shells around our growth.

sunday noon: very stingily blue whipped to white by wind from russian steppes. the mornings are god’s time, and after breakfast for those five hours somehow everything is all right and most things are even possible. the afternoons however slip away faster and faster and night cheats by coming shortly after four. the dark time, the night time is worst now. sleep is like the grave, worm-eaten with dreams.”

Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing. There are two opposing poles to wanting nothing: When one is so full and rich and has so many inner worlds that the outer world is not necessary for joy, because joy emanates from the inner core of one’s being. When one is dead and rotten inside and there is nothing in the world.

I want to live each day for itself like a string of coloured beads, and not kill the present by cutting it up in cruel little snippets to fit some desperate architectural draft for a taj mahal in the future.

Me dos!

Filed under: Sylvia Plath,

“Adulthood comes not with the realization that you’re turning into your mother but with the acceptance of it.”

Why Is My Mother Getting A Tattoo? And other questions I wish I never had to ask. Essays by Jancee Dunn

Oh man! This was hi-larious, funny, and a breeze to read. It managed to retain my focus for an entire hour of ellipticizing, which is saying something, because truth be told, I don’t really like ellipticizing! Short, sweet, and engaging; the kind of book that makes you (by you i mean me) feel like you and the author could/should be best friends! Oh oh and thanks to my lovely sister for giving it to me.

————-

It’s happening, I thought. Oh, Lord, it is happening. Adulthood comes not with the realization that you’re turning into your mother but with the acceptance of it.

Do you know what’s great about getting older? Not getting looks when you say you like to go to bed early. Not getting looks when you order a seltzer instead of a vodka tonic.

I suppose I had wanted to spot something wonderfully mundane—homely, even—that would instantly transport me through an emotional time machine. If we were standing inside of a kitchen that we recognized, surrounded by all of our family members—still alive, still miraculously healthy—then we could achieve the impossible and actually go home again.

He was easily my most caustic friend, but he always argued that if you scratch a cynic, you’ll discover a disappointed idealist.

I mean, before eight hundred years of therapy, I was the kind of person who, if anybody would look at me funny, I would get a stomachache and think, What can I do to fix this? Should I buy them a present, maybe?

The only thing more exhausting than being around someone with iron regulations is being around someone with none. It takes guts to stand by your principles as uncool or outrageous as they may seem.

Forget parties, which I view as work. The irony is that even as a card-carrying hermit, I am still pleased to be invited places, and appreciative of anyone who makes the effort to host any sort of shindig, a nightmare I would never bring on myself. I know already I’d be the type of host who would obsess about the one guest who isn’t screaming with laughter, making out with strangers, and spraying everyone with jets of champagne. So I show up to any place I’m invited and then make everyone uncomfortable as, filmed with sweat, I strain to be the witty and sparkling bon vivant, the spirited initiator of a thousand lively conversations. I solicit opinions. I ask questions.

Soon we won’t care at all if anyone sees what we’re playing [on our iPods], and that’s when we’ll know we’re officially old.

Filed under: Jancee Dunn,

“You must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.”

Book: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

For the entire month after finals, I didn’t read a single book. Or write a single page. Or think about anything other than my next meal and my next nap, really. I had absolutely no ish. No chutzpah. No enthusiasm. Nuthin. My ish was in the negatives, even–proven by the fact that in that time, I watched 2 seasons of The Hills instead of doing anything remotely intellectual. I was burned out to a crisp. On reading, on writing…on a lot of things. Not gonna lie, it was pretty bad. I decided on one mission: to make it my utmost priority to be happy, and to relocate my inspiration.

I started with the most effortless inspiration-feed possible: an Oprah podcast. And you know what? It was great. Oprah’s great. I felt lighter in my (rain)boots (damnit Portland) almost immediately!

Then, I turned to a popular choice of Oprah’s book club: Eat, Pray, Love.

I liked it a lot. Was it the best thing I’ve ever read? No. Did I get something really positive out of reading it? Yes. I love what Gilbert says about the United States. I love her descriptions of Italian carbs. I love her humor, her honesty, and her flexible but very powerful conviction in faith and spirituality. Her writing is a breeze to read, and it makes for an interesting travelogue. In parts, especially at the end, I did feel it got a little bit “this-is-the-secret-of-life”ish (similar to Coelho, perhaps), and I was a bit disappointed in the relative brevity of her acknowledgements–she was pretty casual about somehow having the practical resources to do all that traveling/uninterrupted self-exploration. But I’m really, really glad I read it. Gilbert rekindled my desire to read more this summer, as I remembered what it’s like to read a passage and feel so warmly “connected” over our mutual internal battles or what have you. She helped me sort through a lot of my own internal “priorities” debates (i.e. what is most important to me in life, what should be most important, etc. etc.). I don’t think this book will become my next always-on-my-nightstand favorite, but I do think that the people who dismiss it as un-literary “fluff” are missing out.


Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Have you been planning on reading it? Why/why not? If not, do these excerpts make you want to at least reconsider? :).

———–
In the end, what I have come to believe about God is simple. It’s like this—I used to have this really great dog. She came from the pound. She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, “What kind of dog is that?” I would always give the same answer: “She’s a brown dog.” Similarly, when the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God.”

Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared to admit you wanted – an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore – despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time. Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you. He looks at you like you’re someone he’s never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. The irony is, you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You’re a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.

Because God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies (or however the old adage goes).
They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives, and they flank me- Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong.

I say to them, “How did you find me here? Who told you I had come to Rome?”
Depression, always the wise guy, says, “What- you’re not happy to see us?”
“Go away,” I tell him.
Loneliness, the more sensitive cop, says “I’m sorry ma’am. But I might have to tail you the whole time you’re traveling. It’s my assignment.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t,” I tell him, and he shrugs almost apologetically, but only moves closer.

Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours. He’s polite but relentless, and he always trips me up eventually. He asks if I have any reason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. He asks (though we’ve been through this line of questioning hundreds of times already) why I can’t keep a relationship going, why I ruined my marriage, why I messed things up with David, why I messed things up with every man I’ve ever been with. He asks me where I was the night I turned thirty, and why things have gone so sour since then. He asks why I can’t get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be. He asks why, ecaxtly, I think I deserve a vacation in Rome when I’ve made such a rubble of my life. He asks me why I think that running away to Italy like a college kid will make me happy. He asks where I think I’ll end up on my old age, if I keep living this way.

When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and its time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.

You must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.

Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.  Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one.  Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that’s not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment.  Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today . . . Of course we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spen the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure).  Americans don’t really know how to do nothing.  This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype – the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.

For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too—the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness.

But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.

Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots.

In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.  Only artistic excellence is incorruptible.  Pleasure cannot be bargained down.  And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.

To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then, can be a serious business – not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away into…rhetoric and plot.

You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.

He sits down across from me and drawls, “Man, they got mosquitoes ‘round this place big enough to rape a chicken.”

Ladies and Gentleman, Richard from Texas has arrived.

And nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin’ her way.

The other day in prayer I said to God, “Look—I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?”

“Guilt’s just your ego’s way of tricking you into thinking that you’re making moral progress. Don’t fall for it, my dear.”

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping.

I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Top of Form  Bottom of FoTop of Form   HHHHappiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.

Everything is love there. Heaven is love.

I have no nostalgia for the patriarchy, please believe me. But what I have come to realize is that, when that patriarchic system was (rightfully) dismantled, it was not necessarily replaced by another form of protection.

To feel physically comfortable with someone else’s body is not a decision you can make. It has very little to do with how two people think or act or talk or even look. The mysterious magnet is either there, buried somewhere deep behind the sternum, or it is not. When it isn’t there (as I have learned in the past, with heartbreaking clarity) you can no more force it to exist than a surgeon can force a patient’s body to accept a kidney from the wrong donor.

“To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life.”

Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years—I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue.


Filed under: Elizabeth Gilbert,

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