Salieri. It is not up to you whether you fly or fall.

amadeus-salieri

In Mozart’s music, Salieri recognizes something divinely inspired, absolute, and perfect. But what he hears ruins him. Confronted by this beauty beyond his ability to achieve, Salieri suffers his own talent and success in agony. “Thirty years of being called ‘distinguished’ by people incapable of distinguishing!” he cries, as the Viennese cheer him, while casually disregarding the genius in their midst. “If I cannot be Mozart then I do not wish to be anything.” He gets his wish. Mozart is posthumously declared immortal, and Salieri, still alive, is utterly forgotten, the patron saint of the undistinguished. In his last line, the old, discarded court composer addresses the modern audience directly, all those who, like him, are not worth listening to. “Mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all,” he says, sympathizing with our failure to be Mozart. […]

The Salieri that Shaffer created hears with the ears of history; he knows all along what only later listeners could know. When Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, his talent was obvious and undeniable, but his genius was still a matter of opinion. He wasn’t yet Mozart. Peter Shaffer stacked the deck against Salieri by giving his self-doubts the weight of historical certainty. Because Salieri knows Mozart is a genius, his own failure then seems inevitable. But the real weight that he and every artist—every person who strives for greatness—suffers is the weight of not knowing. You must find in yourself the courage to leap off the cliff. Yet it is not up to you whether you fly or fall.

~ Glen Kurtz, Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music


Image Credit: vjmorton

 

Floated down the milk river

milk

For months the baby woke at seven, fed, fell asleep at eight thirty, woke at ten, fed, fell asleep at eleven thirty, and so on for the rest of the day. I’d made him into a milk clock. Every hour was part of a ritualized ceremony of adding or subtracting milk. A river of milk flowed in and out and around him. He floated down the milk river toward the rest of life.

~ Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary


Notes:

More Manguso Memories

sarah-manguso

After yesterday’s post introducing Sarah Manguso in Manguso Magnificent, we’re back with more.

Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary:

I assumed that maximizing the breadth and depth of my autobiographical memory would be good for me, force me to write and live with greater care, but in the last thing one writer ever published, when he was almost ninety years old, he wrote a terrible warning. He said he’d liked remembering almost as much as he’d liked living but that in his old age , if he indulged in certain nostalgias, he would get lost in his memories. He’d have to wander them all night until morning. He responded to my fan letter when he was ninety. When he was ninety-one, he died. I just wanted to retain the whole memory of my life, to control the itinerary of my visitations , and to forget what I wanted to forget. Good luck with that, whispered the dead. 

And here:

The least contaminated memory might exist in the brain of a patient with amnesia— in the brain of someone who cannot contaminate it by remembering it. With each recollection, the memory of it further degrades. The memory and maybe the fact of every kiss start disappearing the moment the two mouths part.

[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

Cold stove of 4:00 a.m., black iron

cast-iron-stove

Cold stove of 4:00 a.m., black iron, the lids in place on everyone but me, and down the chimney, through the damper’s pinch, the distant hoo-hoo-hooing of an owl. And soon, among the sticks of kindling in the box of words, the mouselike scritching of my pen.

~ Ted Kooser, February. The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book


Photo Credit: The Wild Free Spirit

Rise up

Charles-DAmbrosio

I had just figured out, rather naïvely, that I could buy my own books, and then almost instantly I became a prig about their condition, so much so that I wouldn’t lend them to anyone, at least not without a solemn lecture about their proper handling: no breaking the spines, no dog-earing the pages, no greasy thumbprints. At home, I had my own somewhat wobbly arrangement of brick-and-board shelves, two and then three tiers of ugly pressboard, painted brown and laddered up against the wall, my first piece of furniture. In private, I thought of those shelves with enormous pride, as something I was building, book by book, and brick by brick, and I often looked at them, vaguely satisfied, like a worker inspecting the progress of a job. I wanted the shelves to rise up and reach the ceiling, and for that to happen, all I had to do, I realized, was read.

~ Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering: New and Collected Essays

and if you appreciated this, check out another passage from his new book below: [Read more…]

Words

sleep-dream-art
Looming and phosphorescent against the dark,
Words, always words.

— Charles Wright


Credits:

  • Image: Sleepless by Vanessa @ ésotérique
  • Poem: metaphorformetaphor from Charles Wright’s opening lines to opening lines to “Cryopexy,” The Other Side of the River (Vintage Books, 1984)

 

4:30 (a.m.) on a starry morning…

newspaper

Four-thirty on a starry morning, and soon our Journal Star carrier will come roaring out of the east in his pickup, headlights like fists on the loose black reins of darkness, the road crunching under his tires, and slow down, stop, and drop the news in the dew-struck weeds under the mailbox. Without a pause he’ll wheel around, the gravel flying, headlights sweeping the yard and house, and roar back east. Such resentment he must feel for us, here at the far end of the news, this house hidden in trees with just one window lit, where someone is up early writing.

~ Ted Kooser, November. The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book


Credits: Photograph – Brenda Anderson

The righteous will cross the paper bridge

light

Remember the story you learned as a child: When the hour arrives for us to proceed to the next world, there will be two bridges to it, one made of iron and one made of paper,” Peretz intoned. His words were heavy, but his voice floated on rings of smoke, a breath of fire and ash that hovered over the room full of Hebrew and Yiddish books, as if waiting to descend and consume them. Der Nister swallowed, breathing in the master’s air. “The wicked will run to the iron bridge, but it will collapse under their weight. The righteous will cross the paper bridge, and it will support them all. Paper is the only eternal bridge. Your purpose as a writer is to achieve one task, and one task only: to build a paper bridge to the world to come.

~ Dara Horn, The World To Come


Notes:

Find Your Beach

zadie-smith

Here’s English author Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books with an essay titled Find Your Beach:

[…] Now the ad says: Find your beach. The bottle of beer—it’s an ad for beer—is very yellow and the background luxury-holiday-blue. It seems to me uniquely well placed, like a piece of commissioned public art in perfect sympathy with its urban site. The tone is pure Manhattan. Echoes can be found in the personal growth section of the bookstore (“Find your happy”), and in exercise classes (“Find your soul”), and in the therapist’s office (“Find your self”). I find it significant that there exists a more expansive, national version of this ad that runs in magazines, and on television.

This woman is genius and can write.  Don’t miss her full essay here: Find Your Beach


Notes: Find her award winning book on Amazon here: White TeethPortrait of Zadie Smith: oprah.com. Bio at Wiki here: Zadie Smith