And doubling and doubling and doubling back

que-saiz-je-what-do-I-know

“Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.”

~ Phillip Lopate, The Essay, An Exercise in Doubt


Notes:

Autumn. It shows its disposition to calm, to what feels like a stasis, a pause

sanderlings-birds-beach

NOW and AGAIN the earth begins to desire rest. And in the weeks of autumn especially it shows its disposition to calm, to what feels like a stasis, a pause. The ocean retains its warmth, while high white cloud-boats ride out of the west. Now the birds of the woods are often quiet, but on the shore, the migrating sanderlings and plovers are many and vocal, rafts of terns with the year’s young among them come with the incoming tides, and plunge into the waves, and rise with silver leaves in their beaks. One can almost see the pulsing of their hearts, vigorous and tiny in the trim of white feathers.  Where I live, on the harbor edge of the Cape’s last town, perfect strangers walking along the beach turn and say to each other, without embarrassment or hesitation: isn’t it beautiful.

~ Mary Oliver, Where I Live from Long Life: Essays and Other Writings


Notes:

Found a quiet spot and opened a book

 […] Although the book indulges in occasional shop talk about the craft of writing, it is foremost a running record of pleasure. Mr. Dirda argues in these essays, drawn from a yearlong column about reading that he wrote for the American Scholar, “that we don’t read for high-minded reasons. We read for aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual excitement.”

In perhaps the book’s best essay, “Then and Now,” Mr. Dirda celebrates his book habit as something more than mere acquisition. Returning to the “down-at-heels steeltown” of his Ohio youth, he stays a few nights in his childhood bedroom, where late-night reading gave him his first real sense of a larger world. “As my father used to say: ‘Live fast,’ ” he writes. “In fact, I’ve lived slow, dithered and dallied, taken my own sweet time, and done pretty much what I’ve repeatedly done ever since my mother first taught me to read so long ago: Found a quiet spot and opened a book.” […]

Mr. Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer for the Washington Post, is an engaging storyteller, but he is not, by his own admission, a flashy one. “If only I had a flair for striking similes and metaphors! Alas, nothing ever reminds me of anything else,” he writes. Newspaper writing, he adds, has strengthened his natural tendency toward plainness. In lieu of vividness, Mr. Dirda gives his readers intimacy: “I like a piece to sound as if it were dashed off in 15 minutes—even when hours might have been spent in contriving just the right degree of airiness and nonchalance.” […]

~ Danny Heitman, Restless Reader, a review of Michael Dirda’s new book titled “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.”


Notes:

 

A Solemn Pleasure

Cover_A-Solemn-Pleasure

I’ve read hundreds of forewords introducing new books. I’ve skipped many many (many) hundreds more to get to the story. And, then, there was this one:

Like all great writers, Pritchard has no interest in providing answers. Rather, she strives only to articulate the questions in a manner that the readers can hear. Her aim is never to convey information, but only and powerfully to relay experiences – experiences that are poignant and devastating, familiar and extraordinary, inspiring and gutting. Individually, each of these essays confirms that to write is to think and feel, to take park in the profound and sacred act of witness. Read together – and the book is so arresting that many readers will finish it in a single sitting – the essays amount to a clear and irrefutable mandate for empathy. […]

As you read A Solemn Pleasure, notice how often you find yourself leaning toward the pages. I did so often my neck hurt. The pain was minor, but persistent. In fact, this ache – like each of the powerful essays – is still with me. It’s a reminder. Each time it flares, I remember one of Pritchard’s trenchant sentences. No matter which sentence I recall, it translates to the author beckoning. Look here, she’s saying. Come closer. I’ve got something to show you. Something you need to see.

~ Bret Anthony Johnston, His Foreword for A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, And Write (The Art of the Essay): Melissa Pritchard


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…]

Good Dawn Friends!

rain-window-bubbles-morning-train

This is to say nothing against afternoons, evenings or even midnight.
Each has its portion of the spectacular.
But dawn — dawn is a gift.
Much is revealed about a person about his or her passion, or indifference,
to this opening of the door of day.
No one who loves dawn, and is abroad to see it,
could be a stranger to me.

— Mary Oliver, from Long Life: Essays And Other Writings (Da Capo Press, 2005)

 


Credits: Jianwei Yang – photograph of morning rain from train window. Quote – metaphorformetaphor

 

The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of teaching were…

joseph_epstein

…The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of university teaching were those I encountered when I first began, in the early 1970s, who almost all turned out to have been put through Catholic schools, during a time when priests and nuns still taught and Catholic education hadn’t become indistinguishable from secular education. Many of these kids resented what they felt was the excessive constraint, with an element of fear added, of their education. Most failed to realize that it was this very constraint—and maybe a touch of the fear, too—that forced them to learn Latin, to acquire and understand grammar, to pick up the rudiments of arguing well, that had made them as smart as they were…

..So often in my literature classes students told me what they “felt” about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to—but did not—write: “D-, Too much love in the home.” I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.

~ Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education and Other Essays


Thank you Michael Wade for your recommendation of Epstein’s new book: A Literary Education and Other Essays. I’m half way through and loving it.  Joseph Epstein, 77, was born in Chicago. He is an essayist, short story writer, and editor. In 2003, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Sunday Morning: The Ear is stunned. The Nose is outraged. The Eye is confused.

forest, woods,nature,lake,photography

“I owe much to my excursions to Nature. They have helped to clothe me with health, if not with humility; they have helped sharpen and attune all my senses; they have kept my eyes in such good trim that they have not failed me for one moment during all the seventy-five years I have had them; they have made my sense of smell so keen that I have much pleasure in the wild, open-air perfumes, especially in the spring—the delicate breath of the blooming elms and maples and willows, the breath of the woods, of the pastures, of the shore. This keen, healthy sense of smell has made me abhor tobacco and flee from close rooms, and put the stench of cities behind me. I fancy that this whole world of wild, natural perfumes is lost to the tobacco-user and to the city- dweller. Senses trained in the open air are in tune with open-air objects; they are quick, delicate, and discriminating. When I go to town, my ear suffers as well as my nose: the impact of the city upon my senses is hard and dissonant; the ear is stunned, the nose is outraged, and the eye is confused. When I come back, I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”

– John Burroughs


John Burroughs (1837 – 1921) was an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S. conservation movement.  John Burroughs was the most important practitioner after Henry David Thoreau of that especially American literary genre, the nature essay. By the turn of the 20th century he had become a virtual cultural institution in his own right: the Grand Old Man of Nature at a time when the American romance with the idea of nature, and the American conservation movement, had come fully into their own. His extraordinary popularity and popular visibility were sustained by a prolific stream of essay collections, beginning with Wake-Robin in 1871.

Burroughs was the seventh child of ten children. He was born on the family farm in the Catskill Mountains, near Roxbury, New York. As a child he spent many hours on the slopes of Old Clump Mountain, looking off to the east and the higher peaks of the Catskills. As he labored on the family farm he was captivated by the return of the birds each spring and other wildlife around the family farm including frogs and bumblebees. In his later years he credited his life as a farm boy for his subsequent love of nature and feeling of kinship with all rural things.  During his teen years Burroughs showed a keen interest in learning. He read whatever books he could get his hands on and was fascinated by new words or known words applied in new ways.  Burroughs’ father believed the basic education provided by the local school was enough and refused to support the young Burroughs when he asked for money to pay for the books or the higher education he wanted. At the age of 17 Burroughs left home to earn the money he needed for college by teaching at a school in Olive, New York.  Burroughs went on to take various teaching positions.

(Source: Wiki)


Credits:

We Say Everything Comes Back

waves, dark, blue, shoreline, beach, rock

“We say you cannot divert the river from the river bed. We say that everything is moving, and we are a part of this motion. That the soil is moving. That the water is moving. We say that the earth draws water to her from the clouds. We say the rainfall parts on each side of the mountain, like the parting of our hair, and that the shape of the mountain tells where the water has passed. We say this water washes the soil from the hillsides, that the rivers carry sediment, that rain when it splashes carries small particles, that the soil itself flows with water in streams underground. We say that water is taken up into roots of plants, into stems, that it washes down hills into rivers, that these rivers flow to the sea, that from the sea, in the sunlight, this water rises to the sky, that this water is carried in clouds, and comes back as rain, comes back as fog, back as dew, as wetness in the air.

We say everything comes back.”

Susan Griffin


Source: moody blues by Andy Kennelly on Flickr via Sundaug.

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Seneca Speaks from 49 A.D.

black and white, relax, chill,live, chill

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman philosopher. He wrote the essay “On The Shortness of Life” in 49 A.D. That is, over 1900 years ago.  Seneca figured out busyness and multi-tasking thousands of years ago.  Clanking through my head – – the more things change, the more…

Here are two excerpts from Ed Batista’s excellent post titled “On The Shortness of Life“:

3. …No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal… What, then, is the reason of this? You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last… You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!… [Read more…]

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