That – and no more, and it is everything to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything

In one of the rare interviews he did, the fiction writer and poet Denis Johnson — who died on Wednesday at 67 — was asked about his craft, and he quoted these lines from Joseph Conrad: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”

In his own novels and poems, Mr. Johnson fulfilled that task with extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor. Whether set in the bars and motels of small-town America, or the streets of wartime Saigon, his stories depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation…

Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption…

“What I write about,” Mr. Johnson once said, “is really the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking: ‘Why is it like this if there’s supposed to be a God?’”

~ Michiko Kakutani, excerpts from Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World


Find Denis Johnson’s Books on his Page at Amazon here.

Karmar Repair Kit 1-4

sleep-dog-rest-cute

1. Get enough food to eat,
and eat it.

2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet,
and sleep there.

3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise
until you arrive at the silence of yourself,
and listen to it.

4.

~ Richard Brautigan, “Karma Repair Kit 1-4″ from The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster


Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: via Your Eyes Blaze Out

Walking Cross-Town. With little ones.


3:30 a.m. yesterday. Saw this photo and froze.

This THIS is the world our children live in today.

Look at her. Those eyes. Those little shoes.

Precious is tucked in close to Dad who is buying tickets for the show.

And then the scene darkens, a conjoining of rivers with Catherine Abbey Hodges’ closing lines in “How to Begin“: “You’re a strand of dark thread sticking a word to a river. Then another.

Manchester. 22 dead. Women, children, soft targets. UK terror threat raised to Critical. 1000 troops deployed.

Dear Ms. Hodges, is the question How to Begin?

Or is it, How does it end? [Read more…]

Miracle. All of it.

Pregnant Turtle. Female turtles are able to retain sperm in their Fallopian tubes for up to three years, which can be used for different clutches of eggs. A single clutch of eggs can also have multiple fathers.

~ Jessica Stewart, 12 Incredible X-Rays Reveal How Different Pregnant Animals Look (My Modern Met)


Notes:

  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Live & Live Posts: Miracle. All of it.

It’s been a long day

germany

Don’t be afraid to suffer—take your heaviness
and give it back to the earth’s own weight;
the mountains are heavy,
the oceans are heavy.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Poetry of Rilke; “Sonnets to Orpheus


Notes:

Guess.What.Day.It.Is?


Notes:

  • Photo: (via Horty, thank you!)
  • Background on Caleb/Wednesday/Hump Day Posts and Geico’s original commercial: Let’s Hit it Again

Riding Metro North. Don’t Sit Here.

You, yes You, are standing on the platform waiting for the next train. The train approaches.  You flip open an app that displays which seats are open and…the app flashes a profile of your seat mate. Profiles are pulled together using a composite of the individuals’ blog posts, google searches and social media activity. So, what you have here is a form of seat match-making, with no names or addresses disclosed.

You, yes You, see that there are only two seats open. You scan the first profile, and you move to the second, mine, needing to quickly decide where to sit as the train pulls into the station. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Like when an off-duty ballet dancer steps on the subway and everyone’s head turns,

influencing us to readjust our posture and perhaps reconsider our whole lives.

Just like that.

~ Durga Chew-Bose, from “Part of a Greater Pattern” in Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays


Notes:

I imagine how the press of cooling air might feel against its wings

For some weeks, I’ve been worried about the health of family and friends. Today I’ve stared at a computer screen for hours. My eyes hurt. My heart does, too. Feeling the need for air, I sit on the step of my open back door and see a rook, a sociable species of European crow, flying low toward my house through gray evening air. Straightaway I use the trick I learned as a child, and all my difficult emotions lessen as I imagine how the press of cooling air might feel against its wings. But my deepest relief doesn’t come from imagining I can feel what the rook feels, know what the rook knows — instead, it’s slow delight in recognizing that I cannot. These days I take emotional solace from understanding that animals are not like me, that their lives are not about us at all. The house it’s flying over has meaning for both of us. To me, it is home. To a rook? A way point on a journey, a collection of tiles and slopes, useful as a perch or a thing to drop walnuts on in autumn to make them shatter and let it winkle out the flesh inside.

Then there is something else. As it passes overhead, the rook tilts its head to regard me briefly before flying on. And with that glance I feel a prickling in my skin that runs down my spine, and my sense of place shifts. The rook and I have shared no purpose. For one brief moment we noticed each other, is all. When I looked at the rook and the rook looked at me, I became a feature of its landscape as much as it became a feature of mine. Our separate lives, for that moment, coincided, and all my anxiety vanished in that one fugitive moment, when a bird in the sky on its way somewhere else pulled me back into the world by sending a glance across the divide.

~ Helen MacDonald, excerpt from “What Animals Taught Me About Being Human” (The New York Times, May 16, 2017)


Photo: Gregory Colbert (Thank you Sawsan via Last Tambourine)

Miracle. All of it. (perfect in a way we aren’t)


Fred is 15 years old and 80 pounds, and since my parents adopted him two years ago, he has never left this yard. When he is dozing in the shade, the old shower trees outside the picket fence that surrounds the yard rain their pink and yellow petals down on him…Fred has nowhere to go and nothing to do, and my parents expect nothing from him.

Every morning, Fred must be fed: a mixture of timothy hay, romaine and protein-rich kibble, which is spread across a baking tray so he can see it easily…Some five hours later, lunch must be provided. Then, at around 6 in the evening, someone has to check that Fred has put himself to bed in his wooden house, where he spends at least 20 minutes bumping and scraping against the walls and the floor: the sulcata, which is native to sub-Saharan Africa, is like most tortoises a burrower by nature; in those arid climates, tortoises will dig deep tunnels in order to access damper, cooler earth. My parents’ neighborhood is humid — it rains every morning and every evening, a light, brief mist that makes the air smell loamy and slightly feral — but Fred is conditioned to dig regardless, his stumpy back legs chafing against the flagstones beneath his house. By 8 p.m., he is silent, sluggish; like all reptiles, Fred is coldblooded, and he will remain in his house until the morning and the return of the sun and its heat…

When the occasional passer-by looks over the fence and sees Fred marching across the yard, his legs churning with the same steady, hardy energy of a toddler delighting in his newfound ability to walk, they are always startled. The surprise is attributable to his size, as well as his shape and color; at first glance, you might mistake him for a large rock, only to then realize that the rock is moving…

To be in the company of a tortoise is to be reminded — instantly, inarticulably — of the oldness of the world and the newness of us (humans, specifically, but also mammals in general). Nature has created thousands of creatures, but most of us have been redrawn over the millenniums: Our heads have grown larger, our teeth smaller, our legs longer, our jaws weaker. But tortoises, some varieties of which are 300 million years old, older than the dinosaurs, are a rough draft that was never refined, because they never needed to be. They are proof of nature’s genius and of our own imperfection, our fragility and brevity in a world that existed long before us and will exist long after we’re gone. They are older than we are in all ways, as a tribe and as individuals — they can live 150 years (and can grow to be 200 pounds). As such, you cannot help feeling a sort of humility around them: They may be slow and ungainly and lumpily fashioned, but they are, in their durability and unchangeability, perfect in a way we aren’t. It is all this that makes them unique and unsettling animals to live with, for to be around them is to be reminded, incessantly, of our own vulnerability…

Fred doesn’t actually need company, or water, or even food; were he at home in Sudan, he would be eating (dry grasses; shrubbery) only every few days…A tortoise knows how to wait. It is another piece of wisdom that comes from being a member of a species that is so very old.

He was, I always thought, an unattractive animal: his eyes might kindly be called beady, his mouth a puckered seam — the writer Jane Gardam once described a tortoise as having “an old man’s mean little mouth” — but over my summer with my parents, I also realized that I was mesmerized by him — even that I respected him. How could I not? An animal that demands so little and craves even less? An animal so unlike the animal I am, one with such a developed sense of self-possession? What secret did Fred know that I did not?

…I liked to sit on the porch steps and watch Fred trundle across the lawn. A few weeks into my stay, we’d grown familiar enough that he would toddle right up to me and stretch out his neck, its skin sagging into crepey pleats, and let me pat his head, closing his little black eyes as I did. In those moments, I found myself talking to him, usually about banal things: asking if he’d enjoyed the hibiscus flowers I’d snapped off a neighbor’s bush; if he could feel the myna birds that occasionally perched on his back. This time, though, I asked him something else, something more intimate, something about what it was like to be the creature he was, what it was like to live without a sense of obligation or pity or guilt — all the things that make being a human so sad and so mysterious and so wondrously rich.

He didn’t answer, of course. But for a moment, he held his position, his head motionless beneath my hand, a short pause in his very long life. And then he moved on — and I stood and watched him go

~ Tanya Yanagihara, excerpts from A Pet Tortoise Who Will Outlive Us All (NY Times, May 17, 2017)


Notes:

  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
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