A Journey Around My Room

In Lin Yutang’s view, you must possess the capacity to open yourself to seeing what’s in front of and around you all the time, not just when you are on a special trip. He gives us a sizable translation from a Chinese philosopher who expands on this, explaining that seeing the beauty and grace in the most majestic mountains means nothing if you can’t see beauty and grace in “a little patch of water, a village, a bridge, a tree, a hedge, or a dog….”

A travel book that takes this philosophy as far as it can go and then further is that remarkable little book: A Journey Around My Room. This is book was written in 1790 by a young French officer named Xavier de Maistre. […]

With nothing else to do, he wrote a guidebook to his room, visiting over the course of those weeks various bits of furniture, paintings, his bookshelf, letters he’d kept, and his own memory of a charming and slightly rakish life … De Maistre makes a case for traveling around his room as the truest kind of travel … “The pleasure you find in traveling around your room is safe from the restless jealousy of men; it is independent of the fickleness of fortune. After all, is there any person so unhappy, so abandoned, that he doesn’t have a little den into which he can withdraw and hide away from everyone? Nothing more elaborate is needed for the journey.”

Like all good travel writers, de Maistre begins his book by giving us the lay of the land and the route he intends to take:

My room is situated on the forty-fifth degree of latitude, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria; it stretches from east to west; it forms a long rectangle, thirty-six paces in circumference, if you hug the wall. My journey will, however, measure much more than this, as I will be crossing it frequently lengthwise, or else diagonally, without any rule or method. I will even follow a zigzag path, and I will trace out every possible geometrical trajectory if need be. I don’t like people who have their itineraries and ideas so clearly sorted out that they say, “Today I’ll make three visits, I’ll write four letters, and I’ll finish that book I started.” My soul is so open to every kind of idea, taste and sentiment; it so avidly receives everything that presents itself!…And why would it turn down the pleasures that are scattered along life’s difficult path? …

But when he wants to be awakened to what is going on in the world far from his window, and learn more about the human condition, there is another destination in his room that he can visit—his bookshelf, which is filled mostly with novels and a few books of poetry. These take him out of his room while allowing him to stay in it, and expand his experiences a thousandfold. He writes, “As if my own troubles weren’t enough, I also voluntarily share those of a thousand imaginary characters, and I feel them as vividly as my own.” …

After reading A Journey Around My Room, I vowed that I would take a trip to my room every few months, and these have been some of the happiest days I’ve spent. It’s an incredible luxury to be home and not sick, to wake up with no agenda other than to wander around the apartment all day. I can lie on the sofa and look at the light as it plays across a glass table. Or see the way it catches on a cracked ceramic vase. I can play with the shells I’ve brought back from the beach. I can admire our hearty little African violet. And I can visit my books, flipping through this one and then that to light on a passage.

This only works if I remain totally unplugged. The rules for such a day are simple—no electronics at all (except for music).

~ Will Schwalbe, from “A Journey Around My Room. Traveling.” In Books for a Living.


Notes:

It’s been a long day

I was interrupted. People – People. – Phone. – Phone. – Endless. And I am so tired. – :And I would like to sleep under trees – Red ones – Blue ones – Swirling passionate ones – It has been a broken up day – … All fine – but I so damnably tired – I…found I had failed –

~ Alfred Stieglitz · [New York City] ·  June 30, 1917, from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

 


Notes:

  • Photo: National Geographic (December 18, 2015) Photographing autumn foliage in Kyoto, Japan. Aurora Simionescu came upon these illuminated paper umbrellas in a stand of bamboo trees at Kodaiji Temple. But capturing this image of the display wasn’t easy. “Illuminated traditional paper umbrellas were scattered throughout the temple grounds as a part of [the autumn illumination] festival,” she explains, “but I especially liked how they broke the monotony of the bamboo forest by adding a splash of color.
  • Related Posts: It’s been a long day

Sunday Morning

Except for Aunt Maria. Unlike her father, my grandfather, she belonged not among the Enlightenment’s disciples, but with the deeply religious, the deeply silent. I know she read serious works on theology, I would guess that she knew how to pray (an ability far rarer than it seems), but she was a quiet person, like all in my family…Aunt Maria’s silence, it seems to me, grew from her religion—I sensed her conviction that things linked to faith must be left unexpressed, that they’re lost when spoken, they become banalities. I admired her for being different, for the deep devotion that she wouldn’t, couldn’t share with us—she was the opposite of those pious hypocrites who place their religious fervor on public display…Maria kept silent for different reasons. Perhaps those who pray truly and deeply inevitably watch their words around others.

~ Adam Zagajewski, Slight Exaggeration: An Essay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 4, 2017)


Notes: Image – Farm Hands, via Mennyfox55

Everyone knows this. Everyone knows what it looks like.

Everyone knows this. Everyone knows what it looks like. I can’t count how many pieces I’ve read about how alienated we’ve become, tethered to our devices, leery of real contact; how we are heading for a crisis of intimacy, as our ability to socialise withers and atrophies. But this is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. We haven’t just become alienated because we’ve subcontracted so many elements of our social and emotional lives to machines. It’s no doubt a self-perpetuating cycle, but part of the impetus for inventing as well as buying these things is that contact is difficult, frightening, sometimes intolerably dangerous Your favourite part of having a smartphone is never having to call anyone again, the source of the gadget’s pernicious appeal is not that it will absolve its owner of the need for people but that it will provide connection to them –connection, furthermore, of a risk-free kind, in which the communicator need never be rejected, misunderstood or overwhelmed, asked to supply more attention, closeness or time than they are willing to offer up.

~ Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone


Photo: Luca Pietrobono with smartphone

Flying Over I-95 N. With Radar O’Reilly.

sky-clouds,aerial

I’m 39,800 feet up and heading home. I receive a text message from my Assistant.

“7:30 am tomorrow. Meeting just hit your calendar.”

“OK”

It was 3 years ago. I had slogged through a conga line of candidate interviews – job hoppers, unexplainable gaps on resumes, typos, gum snappers…and…poor chemistry.

She stepped into my office.  I scanned her resume. Professional presentation. No typos. Higher education. Limited job hopping.  OK, so what’s the catch?

It was late afternoon. We walked through her work experience, why she was looking to leave her current role, how she’d found me.  Her responses were polite and brief, no extra words. Two introverts suffocating the silence. Do I bring this out in all candidates? Is it me?

I pivot to my concerns. [Read more…]

It’s been a long day

I am not a person to say the words out loud

I think them strongly, or let them hunger from the page:

know it from there, from my silence, from somewhere other

than my tongue

the quiet love

the silent rage

—  Keri Hulme, from “Against the Small Evil Voices,” in Strands.


Notes:

 

Walking Cross-Town. With Marrow.

It’s 6:38 pm and I’m rushing across town to catch the 7:12 at Grand Central.

It’s 6:38 pm. I note the coincidence – I boarded the 6:38 am morning train, must be some significance in that. Or absolutely none at all and you are delirious.

The thought evaporates like mist and the mind shifts to The Feet.  Still 75 minutes from home. The skin has been scraped raw off both heels from new shoes – I wince with each step. How about a few shots of Novocain Doc, hit me. Inject a few blasts in the forehead and let it slow drip, down the bloodstream, relieve the weight from the shoulders and back, and let it settle in my feet, just camp out right there.

The day ended with a semi-social event. Whatever marrow is left, is being sucked out of this introvert’s bones.  A career development event for twenty high potentials. I step in the restroom a few minutes before the session, splash cold water on my face, and look. There’s me in the mirror.  Thinning hair, and this is kind. Gray. Bags under the eyes, a raccoon  Shoulders slumped. Suit rumbled. And they’re looking for some secret sauce from you?  Try, please, try, not to repeat yourself. Try not to curse. Try not to be too authentic.   [Read more…]

Deep shame, maximum self-consciousness.

walk-through-walls-marina-abramovic

Deep shame, maximum self-consciousness. When I was young it was impossible for me to talk to people. Now I can stand in front of three thousand people without any notes, any preconception of what I’m going to say, even without visual material, and I can look at everyone in the audience and talk for two hours easily.

What happened?

Art happened.

When I was fourteen, I asked my father for a set of oil paints. He bought them for me, and also arranged for a painting lesson from an old partisan friend of his, an artist named Filo Filipović. Filipović, who was part of a group called Informel, painted what he called abstract landscapes. He arrived in my little studio carrying paints, canvas, and some other materials, and he gave me my first painting lesson.

He cut out a piece of canvas and put it on the floor. He opened a can of glue and threw the liquid on the canvas; he added a little bit of sand, some yellow pigment, some red pigment, and some black. Then he poured about half a liter of gasoline on it, lit a match, and everything exploded. “This is a sunset,” he told me. And then he left.

This made a big impression on me. I waited until the charred mess had dried, and then very carefully pinned it to the wall. Then my family and I left for vacation. When I came back, the August sun had dried everything up. The color was gone and the sand had fallen off. There was nothing left but a pile of ashes and sand on the floor. The sunset didn’t exist anymore.

Later on, I understood why this experience was so important. It taught me that the process was more important than the result, just as the performance means more to me than the object.

~ Marina Abramovic, Walk Through Walls: A Memoir (October 25, 2016)


Marina Abramović, 69, is a Serbian performance artist based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Active for over three decades, Abramović has been described as the “grandmother of performance art.” She pioneered a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of observers, focusing on “confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body.” The passage above is from her recently recently memoir.

Over 30,000,000 viewers have watched her performance on this Youtube video: Don’t miss it here.


Saturday

sleeping-dont-wake-me

The best thing about the bedroom was the bed.
I liked to stay in bed for hours,
even during the day with covers pulled up to my chin.
It was good in there,
nothing ever occurred in there,
no people,
nothing.

~ Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye


Notes: Quote – Schonwiener. Photograph: Aveline Gunawan with Don’t wake me up

 

 

3:45 A.M.: Yes, all that.

night-light-window

I need solitude.
I need space.
I need air.
I need the empty fields round me;
and my legs pounding along roads;
and sleep;
and animal existence.

~ Virginia Woolf, from The Diary of Virginia Woolf


Notes: Poem – thank you Beth (again) on Alive on all Channels. Photo: Mennyfox55

 

 

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