Smell it. Ohio Soil. Humus.

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Spent the day in Cambridge Library.

The Library a wilderness of books. The volumes of the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, which lie so near on the shelf, are rarely opened, are effectually forgotten and not implied by our literature and newspapers. When I looked into Purchas’s Pilgrims, it affected me like looking into an impassable swamp, ten feet deep with sphagnum, where the monarchs of the forest, covered with mosses and stretched along the ground, were making haste to become peat. Those old books suggested a certain fertility, an Ohio soil, as if they were making a humus for new literatures to spring in. I heard the bellowing of bullfrogs and the hum of mosquitoes reverberating through the thick embossed covers when I had closed the book. Decayed literature makes the richest of all soils.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861


Source: Brainpickings

It’s like pulling into our own train station after a long trip

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When you love something like reading — or drawing or music or nature — it surrounds you with a sense of connection to something great. If you are lucky enough to know this, then your search for meaning involves whatever that Something is. It’s an alchemical blend of affinity and focus that takes us to a place within that feels as close as we ever get to “home.” It’s like pulling into our own train station after a long trip — joy, relief, a pleasant exhaustion.

~ Anne Lamott, Stitches. A Handbook on Meaning, Hope & Repair


Image: iwetaczech

Manguso. Magnificent.

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She’s Sarah Manguso. A 41-year old writer and poet born in Massachusetts and author of the highly acclaimed memoir The Two Kinds of Decay.

Karen mentioned that she “loved” Manguso’s work so that was enough for me.

Her new book Ongoing: The End of A Diary was released yesterday.

This slim 144-page book is a gem. I’m trying to find the right adjective(s).

Transfixed?

Transported?

Transcendent?

Here’s a snippet:

To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget. A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter that no one records.

[Read more…]

You pages — ten of you — you are the dribble cup — you are the cloth to wipe up the vomit.

John-Steinbeck

We read many books.

Some stand out, way ahead from the others.

I listed my Top 11 in a posted titled Books, Books, Books back in 2012. Is it possible to even have a Top 5, or a Top 10 or Top 100 top books list?

Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Grapes of Wrath, was #1 on my short list.

Steinbeck kept a diary while he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. It was published as “Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath.”

Maria Popova wrote a must-read post yesterday titled: How Steinbeck Used The Diary as a Tool of Discipline where she describes the book as a “remarkable living record of his creative journey, in which this extraordinary writer tussles with excruciating self-doubt but plows forward anyway, with equal parts gusto and grist, driven by the dogged determination to do his best…his daily journaling becomes a practice both redemptive and transcendent.”  Here’s a Steinbeck quote from the post:

I don’t know whether I could write a decent book now. That is the greatest fear of all. I’m working at it but I can’t tell. Something is poisoned in me. You pages — ten of you — you are the dribble cup — you are the cloth to wipe up the vomit. Maybe I can get these fears and disgusts on you and then burn you up. Then maybe I won’t be so haunted. Have to pretend it’s that way anyhow.

I reflected on Steinbeck’s thoughts. Two conclusions came to mind.

1) Steinbeck had doubt. Me and Steinbeck. SympaticoMisery loves company.

2) Steinbeck had doubt. Steinbeck, STEINBECK, had doubt. I don’t stand a chance.

If you are writing, building or creating anything and have doubts, this post is worth your time: Don’t miss: How Steinbeck Used TheDiary as a Tool of Discipline.

And yes, I bought the book.


Photo: Vivandlarry.com

About right

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Source: ilovecharts

Mommy!

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He headed for the school still wrapped in the warmth of this bed, the taste of cereal in his mouth, tightly holding the hand just above his head, walking as quickly as he could, taking two steps for his mother’s one, his little knapsack bouncing on his back, then came the school door, the rapid kiss goodbye, the asphalt playground with its rows of maples, the clanging bell . . . at first he took shelter from the rain under the overhang, then he joined the schoolyard games, but a few minutes later they all found themselves sitting behind Lilliputian desks, quiet and no moving around, all the body’s movements concentrated on the effort of moving the pencil down this low-ceilinged corridor called the line. Tongue stuck out, fingers numb and wrist stiff . . . little bridges, circles, tails, sticks, more little bridges … he is miles from his mother now, lost in this strange solitude called effort, in the company of all those other solitudes with their tongues stuck out . . . and now the first letters are assembled . . . lines of “a’s,” lines of “m’s,” of “q’s” (the “q” is no joke with its diving, backwards tail, but it’s a piece of cake compared to the “s” with its treacherous curves, and the “k” with its spray of lines shooting out every which way), all the difficult ones conquering so that, little by little, as if they were magnetized, the letters come together spontaneously into syllables, lines of mom and dad, and the syllables making words . . . Then, one day, his ears still humming from the commotion of the lunchroom, he contemplated the silent flowering of the word of white paper, there, before his eyes: mommy.

In a voice that quavered at first, he stumbled over the two syllables, separately. “Mom-my.” Then, suddenly, he understood. “Mommy!”… Little bridges, circles and slanting sticks . . . and you could say “Mommy!” There it was, written, right there, and he had done it! Not a combination of syllables, not a word or concept anymore. It wasn’t any mother, it was his mother, a magical transformation, infinitely more eloquent than the most faithful photographic likeness, built from nothing but circles and sticks and bridges, that have now suddenly – and forever! – become more than scratches on paper.  They have become her presence, her voice, the good way she smelled in the morning, her lap, that infinity of details, that wholeness, so intimately absolute, and so absolutely foreign as to what is written there, on the rails of the page, within the four walls of the classroom.

Lead into gold.
Nothing less.
He had just turned lead into gold.

~ Daniel Pennac, Better Than Life


Notes:

 

Togetherness lost

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Memories are cloudy. It was a ritual that was conducted on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings. It was cold and wet. Cabin Fever had set in. Mom and the Kids needed to get out. Our first stop was Barnes and Noble. Rachel, in her pink galoshes, wandered the aisles in search of the prettiest book covers she could find. She would unzip her down jacket and sit on a Lilliputian bench flipping the pages. Eric would be tugging on his Mom’s coat, impatient, and ready to move on. After negotiating with Rachel that she could only have two, we would head off to lunch, which would include a sandwich or burger, french fries and steamy hot chocolate.

Ah, yes. The good ole’ pre-internet, pre-Amazon days. Who visits book stores today? What book stores carry large inventory? Who’s got time to read to their children? Do children have the patience or interest to sit quietly with a book? The Tech candy is flashing and twitching, coaxing them over. ME. ME. ME. Forget the boring books. Pick ME up.

That evening after we returned from the bookstore, and during weekday evenings that followed, we would read bedtime stories to our children. This parental ritual is beautifully captured by Daniel Pennac below in his reflections:

[Read more…]

Let’s face it, New Year’s resolutions are venomous things.

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Let’s face it, New Year’s resolutions are venomous things. You make them, you break them, you feel lousy, you forget them. But if your bent is masochism and you insist, I recommend reasonable things that are not hard to accomplish: This year I resolve not to drink furniture polish. I resolve to give away all my patent leather. I resolve to pet as many dogs as will permit me.

I once resolved to give up cigarettes but then realized they were one of my oldest friends. As one grows older, we need all the friends we can get so forget that resolution. Likewise drinking. I have never liked to drink so I don’t, but I refused to give it up on numerous occasions for a New Year’s resolution because who knows — one day drinking might come in handy and then where would I be? You have to be careful about these things — life is long and pleasure is short and too often life wins.

If a gun were pointed at my head today and the man in the black cape announced, “Make a resolution or die!” I would grudgingly say, “This year I will try to be kinder, more patient, and as generous as a baby with a cookie.”

The problem with resolutions is we know ourselves pretty well and know if we ain’t doing it now, we probably won’t begin on January 1st. I guess the best thing to do is start in immediately but make no promises to yourself or anyone else. Certainly not out loud. We can make lists and resolutions all day long but the doing is what matters and that can begin any day.

Jonathan Carroll


Jonathan Samuel Carroll, 65, was born in NYC and has lived in Austria since the 1970s. He is an American fiction writer primarily known for novels that may be labelled magic realism,slipstream or contemporary fantasy.

Help, Thanks, Wow Rebecca!

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I’ve just finished the  first of Rebecca Sonlit’s new collection of 29 essays titled The Encyclopedia of Trouble and SpaciousnessMimi uses the word “transported.” I was this. And what came to mind after finishing the first essay was Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

  • HELP! Help God, help me write this well*. (I’ll need 3000 prayers and still not sure He would have the requisite raw material to shape this putty.)
  • THANKS! Thank you Rebecca for this sharing this wondrous talent.
  • WOW! As I sit here reading and re-reading passages. Wow!

Here’s a few excerpts from her expedition to the Arctic Circle titled Cyclopedia of an Arctic Expedition. [Read more…]

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church. I keep it, staying at Home.

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Pico Iyer, Chapter 5: “A Secular Sabbath” from “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.”:

The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape…the reason a certain kind of writer will include a lot of blank space on a page, so his sentences have room to breathe (and his readers, too). The one word for which the adjective “holy” is used in the Ten Commandments is Sabbath…

These days, in the age of movement and connection, space, as Marx had it in another context, has been annihilated by time; we feel as though we can make contact with almost anywhere at any moment. But as fast as geography is coming under our control, the clock is exerting more and more tyranny over us. And the more we can contact others, the more, it sometimes seems, we lose contact with ourselves…

This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines…the one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda, as through the light-filled passageways of Notre Dame. Of course, for a religious person, it’s also very much about community and ritual and refreshing one’s relationship with God and ages past. But even for the rest of us, it’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days…

The Sabbath recalls to us that, in the end, all our journeys have to bring us home. And we do not have to travel far to get away from our less considered habits. The places that move us most deeply, as I found in the monastery, are often the ones we recognize like long-lost friends; we come to them with a piercing sense of familiarity, as if returning to some source we already know. “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—” Emily Dickinson wrote. “I keep it, staying at Home.”


Notes: