My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive


It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist. […]

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Of Power and Time” in Upstream, Selected Essays (Penguin Press, October 2016)


Permitting shame, error and guilt…


Brian Blanchfield, 43, was born in Winston-Salem, NC and now resides in Tucson, AZ where he teaches at the University of Arizona. He is an award winning poet and recently published his second book of essays.  The essays from his new book “Proxies: Essays Near Knowing were written from memory, no referring to the internet or other “authoritative” sources. To give you a taste of his talent and his authenticity, here’s an excerpt from his opening “Note”. I shake my head in awe…

At the end of this book there is a rolling endnote called “Correction.” It sets right much— almost certainly not all— of what between here and there I get wrong. It runs to twenty-one pages. It may still be running. Susceptibility to error is a hazard inherent to Proxies. From the beginning…I decided on a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources. I wrote these essays with the internet off. I determined not to review again the books and other works I consulted in memory, and I did not stop thinking through the subject at hand to verify assertions or ground speculation or firm up approximations. Que sais-je?, Montaigne asked his library shelves one day late in the sixteenth century, and increasingly that seems a good start. Having determined that this would be unresearched essaying, analytic but nonacademic, I was almost immediately drawn to a second constraint— or, better, invitation: to stay with the subject until it gives onto an area of personal uneasiness, a site of vulnerability, and keep unpacking from there. The formula I found for titling the individual essays was generated very early on, to operate this request of self. Clumsy as it may be, I claim as part of a personal sortilege a devotion to the words I had bannered across the top of each new developing piece, an invocation of sorts, a ritual.

Permitting shame, error and guilt…

~ Brian Blanchfield, excerpt from his opening “Note” from Proxies, Essays Near Knowing (June, 2016)

Note: Find “Proxies” Book Reviews here – Goodreads.  Portrait from Poetry Foundation.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call


Too often, convinced of our own intelligence, we stay in a comfort zone that ensures that we never feel stupid (and are never challenged to learn or reconsider what we know). It obscures from view various weaknesses in our understanding, until eventually it’s too late to change course. This is where the silent toll is taken.

Each of us faces a threat as we pursue our craft. Like sirens on the rocks, ego sings a soothing, validating song— which can lead to a wreck. The second we let the ego tell us we have graduated, learning grinds to a halt. That’s why Frank Shamrock said, “Always stay a student.” As in, it never ends.

~ Ryan Holiday, excerpt from his new book “Ego is the Enemy” published June, 2016.




A demanding mistress

You work and you work and you work and you work and you work, and you are determined to wrestle this thing to the ground, making art… But your vision is not yet formed, your work does not yet bear that distinctive mark, your unique hand, your DNA… In your despair, you toss and you turn, crying yourself to sleep night after night after night, endlessly doubting, endlessly doubting your ability and sometimes feeling like a motherless child. I have been there — I know. Searching high and low for your own voice, for your own expressive utterance, you lead yourself down paths that dissipate… Confused and fuzzy, you begin to imagine that all the forces of the world are conspiring against you…

And yet, and still, the pursuit — that driving thing called art — hounds you, and you don’t know any rest. And, determined to make a way out of no way every day, you rise up and you hit it, own it, go into your studio… Art is a demanding mistress.

~ Carrie Mae Weems, 2016 School of Visual Arts Commencement Speech

Sources: Photo – Gund Gallery. Quote: Brainpickings

Sunday Morning


Feb. 23rd. One day I’ll make a list of points of conflict with the herd. One is – ‘They’ assume that what happens is what matters, where you go, what you do, things that happen, the good time that you have. But often I believe it’s none of these things, it’s the times between, the long days when nothing happens, the odd moments, perhaps when you open a letter, or sit alone in a restaurant, or exchange the time of day with a stranger…. Actually this was not the first time I had had an idea of this sort for on January 6th I had put: Possibly the thing that matters, that you are looking for, is like the roots of plants, hidden and happening in the gaps of your knowledge.

~ Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own (Originally published in 1934)

Notes: Photograph by masLucena

The virtue of hard things

Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp.” But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is “grit,” which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. “Grit” is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, from New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who submitted some 2,000 drawings to the magazine before one was accepted, to actor Will Smith, who explains his success as follows: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. . . . If we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

As for Mr. Irving, though verbal fluency did not come easily to him as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. “In doing something over and over again,” he has said, “something that was never natural becomes almost second nature.”

~ Emily Esfahani Smith, in an excerpt from The Virtue of Hard Things, a book review of Angela Duckworth’s new book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Portrait of John Irving: CBC

Hear it as a low continuous rustle


My strongest memory of our garden is not how it smelled, or even looked, but how it sounded. It might strike you as fantastic, but you really can hear plants growing in the Midwest. At its peak, sweet corn grows a whole inch every single day and as the layers of husk shift slightly to accommodate this expansion, you can hear it as a low continuous rustle if you stand inside the rows of a cornfield on a perfectly still August day. As we dug in our garden, I listened to the lazy buzzing of bees as they staggered drunkenly from flower to flower, the petty, sniping chirps of the cardinals remarking upon our bird feeder, the scraping of our trowels through the dirt, and the authoritative whistle of the factory, blown each day at noon.

~ Hope Jahren, Lab Girl 

Notes: Photo: Patty Maher “Still Life with Corn 2013) (via My Modern Met)

Intense Rendezvous: An eye blinks, a muscle shifts, a hand reaches up to turn the page.

arnold smulders

Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time, Chapter Six: Intense Rendezvous – The Joy of Reading:

Compared to drawing and carving, the making of pots, and the weaving of baskets, reading is a relatively recent human accomplishment, dating back no more than fifty-two hundred years. Unlike speech, which is acquired by easy osmosis, reading is not something that comes naturally to most of us. Instead, it must be learned, slowly and painstakingly, by each successive generation. The eye works its way across the page in little jumps, known technically as “saccades,” pausing at intervals like a frog on a lilypad, in order to ingest the next new word. As science writer Simon Ings explains, “The eyes literally cannot see stationary objects; they must tremble constantly in order to bring them into view.” Whereas listening is relatively fast (one needs only a hundredth of a second between sounds in order to distinguish them), looking takes far longer (one needs at least a tenth of a second between two images if they are not to blur), and reading takes longest of all, requiring a full quarter second for each individual word. Reading, then, involves a considerable amount of work. Literate Greeks and Romans preferred to have their books read aloud to them by slaves, and Saint Augustine was actually startled when he first saw Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, reading to himself in silence. “When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart explored the meaning, but his voice was silent, and his tongue was still.”

∴ ∴ ∴

Such reading is especially effective in the case of poetry, which by its nature has much to do with slowing down. The poet Mark Strand writes of the pleasure of “reading the same thing again and again, really savoring it, living inside the poem.” Because there’s no rush to find out what actually happens, the reader can luxuriate in the texture of the words themselves. As Strand explains, “It’s really about feeling one syllable rubbing up against another, one word giving way to another, and sensing the justice of that relationship between one word, the next, the next, the next.” [Read more…]

And he reads to them, as he does every night, as if watering them, as if turning the earth at their feet.

And he reads to them, as he does every night, as if watering them, as if turning the earth at their feet. There are stories he has never heard of, and others he has known as a child, these stepping stones that are there for everyone. What is the real meaning of these stories, he wonders, of creatures that no longer exist even in the imagination: princes, woodcutters, honest fishermen who live in hovels. He wants his children to have an old life and a new life, a life that is indivisible from all lives past, that grows from them, exceeds them, and another that is original, pure, free, that is beyond the prejudice which protects us, the habit which gives us shape. He wants them to know both degradation and sainthood, the one without humiliation, the other without ignorance. He is preparing them for this voyage. It is as if there is only a single hour, and in that hour all the provender must be gathered, all the advice offered.  He longs for the one line to give them that they will always remember, that will embrace everything, that will point the way, but he cannot find the line, he cannot recognize it. It is more precious, he knows, than anything else they might own, but he does not have it. Instead, in his even, sensuous voice he laves them in the petty myths of Europe, of snowy Russia, the East.

~ James Salter, Light Years

Notes: Photo: zinegrrlReading

The Heart


It’s 4 a.m.  Zeke’s asleep on my right, his front legs are stiff armed, fully extended and laying on my chest. No, on my Heart. But for his breathing, I could be laying in bed in the “world’s quietest room“, so completely quiet that I can hear my own organs pumping.  The hypnotic page-turning ride continued:

“She paces the room. If this is a donation, it’s a pretty unusual one, she thinks. There is no donor in this operation— no one intended to make a donation— and likewise there is no donee, because she is not in a position to refuse the organ: she has to accept it if she wants to survive. So what is it exactly? The recycling of an organ that can still be used, can still fulfill its function as a pump? She begins to undress, sitting on the bed: she removes her boots, her socks. The meaning of this transfer, for which she was selected by an incredible alignment of coincidences— the almost perfect compatibility of her blood and her genetic code with those of someone who died today— all of this becomes hazy. She does not like this feeling of unearned privilege; this lottery, it’s like winning a little stuffed animal snagged by the metal claw from a jumble of toys piled behind glass in one of those arcade games. Worst of all is that she will never be able to say thank you; that is the crux of the matter. It’s simply impossible. Thank you— that radiant phrase— will fall into the void. She will never be able to express any kind of gratitude to the donor or the donor’s family, never mind offer a gift in return in order to free herself from this infinite debt, and the idea that she will be permanently trapped crosses her mind. The floor is ice-cold under her feet. She is afraid. Her whole being flinches…

She hopes that she will be able to kiss her sons before she puts on this tissue-paper gown that flutters without covering her up, making her feel as if she is naked in a breeze. Her eyes remain dry, but she is struggling to get her head around the enormity of what she is about to go through. Placing her hand there, between her breasts, she feels her pulse, still slightly too fast in spite of the medication, still somewhat unpredictable too, and says its name out loud: heart.”

~ Maylis de Kerangal, The Heart: A Novel

I’m done but it won’t be done with me – ever – an unforgettable story.


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