How the world turns. All the things, wonderful and ordinary, that we take for granted

Lots of journalists have Salman Rushdie stories. He likes to talk and he is generous with his time. When I interviewed him a few years ago, we had lunch together… What I remember most, though, isn’t what happened there, but the fact that when we were finished, Rushdie insisted he would rather walk with me to Pimlico underground than pile into a taxi.

I think I was surprised. One of my very first jobs as a young journalist involved attending an event where Rushdie, then still in hiding, was rumoured to be going to appear (memory tells me that he did, emerging from behind a curtain like a stage magician). But I was also amused. He didn’t – it was obvious – quite know the best way to the station and in his outsize puffer jacket he rather meekly followed me, looking about happily as he strolled. I’ve thought of those few stuccoed streets, and of him padding along them in the sunshine, seemingly without a care, every day since he was attacked. How the world turns. All the things, wonderful and ordinary, that we take for granted…

Reading is my oldest habit, which is just as well given that I’m one of the judges of this year’s Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction. If ingesting so many books so quickly is exhilarating, it’s also, at moments, arduous; hopefully, my years of training are about to pay off.

I read as I water the garden and wait for the kettle to boil. I read on the bus and the tube and at every pedestrian crossing.

What thoughts occur as I pick up, and put down, each title? All I can tell you is that the difference between a good book and a great one is both inexplicably small and ineffably vast – and that a cartoon I saw the other day in which a man headed to his book group in full armour and carrying a sword made me shudder more than it made me smile.

Rachel Cooke, from “Walking with Salman Rushdie to a tube station now seems like a distant age” (The Guardian, August 20, 2022)


Notes:

  • Inspired by Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh: “A sigh isn’t just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.”
  • Portrait: Salman Rushdie, Murdo MacLeod, The Guardian

And…Her.

7/ 3/ 54. I keep myself going with various kinds of dope: books, written and read, dreams, hopes, crossword puzzles, the sentimentality of friendships, and real friendships, and simply routine.

 Patricia Highsmith, “Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995.″ Anna von Planta (Editor). (Liveright, November 16, 2021)— Patricia Highsmith, Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995

 


Notes:

  • Photos: DK @ Daybreak. 6:45 am, Feb 8, 2022. 36° F, feels like 29° F, Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. More photos from this morning here.
  • Related Swan Posts: Swan1

Walking. With Franzen.

6:45 a.m. – ish this morning. I’m walking Cove Island Beach. I reach the breakwall, and pause. It’s hard not to look out into this and not feel Small. The gentle breeze off the ocean. The lapping of the waves on the shoreline. The cloud formations. The warmth in early October. The thin strip of sunlight on the horizon.

Mark Oliver EverettSometimes that beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or writes something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you. 

And this beauty, the landscape in front, and the words from Audible being pumped into my head from Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Crossroads, made me feel exactly that: Just too beautiful. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Experience one beautiful thing a day. However small. However trivial. Read a poem. Play a favorite song. Laugh with a friend. Gaze at the sky just before the sun’s final tumble toward night. Watch a classic movie. Eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Whatever. Just give yourself one simple reminder that the world is full of wonders. Even if we are at a point in life where we can’t appreciate things, it sometimes helps to remember there are things in this world to enjoy, when we are ready.

—  Matt Haig, with “One Beautiful Thing” in “The Comfort Book” (Penguin Life, July 6, 2021)


Notes:

Lightly Child, Lightly.

Sometimes I get tired of the everythingness of everything, so I retreat to my bed and read. I read and let time fly like a bird that’s hit by a truck, and I’m in a place where peace is timeless. I overthink about doing everything that I need to do all at once, that I drown in the anxiety of heaviness. Reading is coming up to the surface to breathe, and I am learning to perceive before I judge. I am learning to refine my mind before taking action, and I am learning to think with my heart. Because literature, fantasy, and getting my mind caught in the clouds … these are the things that inspire me to live better in reality. And so I close my book, draw the curtains and let the light in everything I’m supposed to do and let the chapter of today be enough.”

— Juansen Dizon, “A Diary Entry about Reading” from The Boy Who Cries Wolf


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels
  • Photo Credit
  • Post inspired by: “There is no better use of my time than to write, second only to reading. As I write, sequential time alters. The usual clock face of seconds marching into minutes, and those minutes adding up to hours, fails to operate in that way for me. Time takes on elasticity and springiness. It seems to stretch so much that I lose track of those passing seconds. It seems to jump from its linear march so high and so far that one moment it is such and such a time, and the next an entire hour has elapsed.” —  Fred D’Aguiar, Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020 (Harper, August 3, 2021)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Saturday Afternoon

What can be better than to get a book out on Saturday afternoon and thrust all mundane considerations away until next week.

—  C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1. Family Letters, 1905-1931


Quote Source: delta-breezes

Lightly Child, Lightly.

Walked by this box at Cove Island Park, what, 100x? 200x? 500x? Had never seen it before.  Today, I noticed.

[Read more…]

T.G.I.F.: Freedom

“I was reading Kierkegaard while waiting to pick up my children from school. I wished I could wave some mother out of her idling vehicle and show her the passage. Reading, however, is a kind of private freedom: out of time, out of place.”

~ Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

 


Photo: Elena with Reading

Lightly child, lightly

…We came out of a time when birth was happy…

We are prizes. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so important,
so healthy…

We were sold on dissatisfaction –…

I am very lucky but that’s not life. And maybe no more than
any person born in any year, I want but don’t know what, feel
unsettled in a sea of similarly restless faces. The breadth of
possibility makes choosing seem evasive. We decide but we are
slow and small with doubts.

It was 1954 when my parents moved to have room for me. I
remember a box my mother packed for me to store at school,
filled with canned milk and soup and Hershey bars.

Two thousand good nights. My checked uniform on a hook.
My face to the hall light because that felt like a day in the sun.
Not fear, not loneliness, but my preference for sleeping near the
window and near the floor, humming.

~ Killarney Clary, from “Who Whispered Near Me?”


Notes:

  • Poem Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: Blue Canary Night light
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Lightly child, lightly

It’s so delicate, the light.
And there’s so little of it. The dark
is huge.
Just delicate needles, the light,
in an endless night.
And it has such a long way to go
through such desolate space.

So let’s be gentle with it.
Cherish it.
So it will come again in the morning.
We hope.

~ Rolph Jacobsen, “A Few Delicate Needles” from The Roads Have Come to an End Now


Notes:

  • Poems: 3QuarksDaily. Photo: (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Lightly child, lightly

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on in the world between the covers of books, such sandstorms and ice blasts of words, such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, such and so many blinding bright lights, splashing all over the pages in a million bits and pieces all of which were words, words, words, and each of which were alive forever in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

~ Dylan Thomas, “Notes on the Art of Poetry” in The Poems of Dylan Thomas, Volume 1


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels.  Art: Michael Azgour with Jennifer Reading (2019)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Move it up. Top of your list. Now.

She was, quite simply, a nice lady who’d raised a family and now lived quietly with her cats and grew vegetables. This was both nothing and everything.

~ Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

 

 

Saturday Morning

Beauty brings us to a halt: it imposes, if only for a flash, the cessation of activity. (On the lawn in front of the library, seeing a runner in red shorts complete the last flailing strides of a sprint before pitching forward, his fingers caressing soft dirt: I let my book fall.) Indolence and aesthetic experience both involve feelings of unbidden influence, involuntariness or absence of will. But where the experience of beauty is often significant and always pleasurable, idleness is more equivocal in its effects and character. Essentially contentless, idleness obtains its phenomenological shape from the objects around us—the pliancy of a chair, the gloss of an advertisement—and the thoughts and desires within us.

O’Connor, to his credit, resists conflating idleness with aesthetic bliss, or animal repose, or other unambiguously positive varieties of passivity. Yet experience without content has little to recommend it. Without some consciously chosen value that organizes how we do nothing, we may find that our idle time makes us less free rather than more.

~ Charlie Tyson, from “Idleness” in The Point (September 5, 2019)


Source: Quote – Thank you The Hammock Papers. Photo: via see more.

Not a big ask…

I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be writing […] But warm, eager, living life—to be rooted in life—to learn, to desire to know, to feel, to think, to act. That is what I want. And nothing less.

~ Katherine Mansfield, (1888-1923) in a diary entry featured in Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield


Notes: Quote via minima. Photo: Jac Graham | wood worker & mead maker (via small & tiny home ideas)

Smell the earth

Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape;

you can still see very little but you can smell the earth

and feel the wind blowing.

~ Iris Murdoch, from her debut novel: Under the Net


Notes: Quote via punlovsinPhoto by Arend Ruizendaal with Reading.

 

The Cost of Living

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children have been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman. It requires skill, time, dedication and empathy to create a home that everyone enjoys and that functions well. Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

~ Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography (July 2018)


Book Review of Deborah Levy’s “The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography by Lauren Oyler can be found at The New Republic (July 26, 2018) titled: How to Live and Write Alone. An excerpt from the book review: “Aphorisms that would usually be heavy-handed (“If we cannot at least imagine we are free, we are living a life that is wrong for us”) also breeze past; only later do you realize you’ve been self-helped.”

Here’s another from Levy’s book: “It begins with knowing and not knowing, a glass of milk, rain, a reproach, a door slammed shut, a mother’s sharp tongue, a snail, a wish, bitten fingernails, an open window. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is unbearable. What was ‘it’? I don’t know.

Highly Recommended.

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books, the perfect book that explains it all, the book whose beauty is as fierce as lightning and whose meaning points to true north, so I dip into thousands of books for a moment and note that this, too, is not it.

~ Rebecca Solnit, in “Rebecca Solnit: By the Book” (NY Times, August 16, 2018)

 


Portrait: sfweekly

Sunday Morning

Refresh yourself, sister
With the water from the copper bowl with bits of ice in it –
Open your eyes under water, wash them –
Dry yourself with a rough towel and cast
A glance at a book you love.
In this way begin
A lovely and useful day.

Bertolt Brecht, “Sister” from Do-it-Yourself Brecht Poem Toolkit

 


Notes: Photo: heather milazzo with Face Washing .  Poem: Thank you Whiskey River.

5 days. Solo in Paris.

Months before I arrived at the little hotel with its red geraniums, I was in Paris on an assignment for the Travel section of the New York Times. I had five days and a headline: “Solo in Paris.” The story was up to me.

To find it, I went walking. Each morning I left my hotel in the 9th arrondissement, just east of the apartment where Proust wrote much of Remembrance of Things Past, and didn’t return until I had gone some twenty miles in whichever direction whim and croissants (and olive fougasse and pistachio financiers) took me. It was April, and like any tourist I saw monuments and statues, naked nymphs, and gods among the roses. But alone, with no one at my side, I was also able to see le merveilleux quotidien, “the marvelous in everyday life”: a golden retriever gazing at a café chalkboard in Montmartre, as if reading the daily specials; boxes of pâtes de fruits arranged in grids like Gerhard Richter’s color charts. The city had my full attention; I was attuned to the faint whir of bicycle wheels and the scent of peaches at the street market.

Although I was traveling without friends or family, each day brought passing companions: bakers, maître d’s, museum greeters, shopkeepers, fellow travelers. The hours were unhurried and entirely mine, like the “limitless solitude” the poet Rilke described in a letter to a friend; “this taking each day like a life-time, this being-with-everything.”

Only, it wasn’t a lifetime—it was five days. On the last morning, I slipped through a gate on rue de Rivoli into the Tuileries. Sprinklers flung water into the air. A man with a wheelbarrow bent over a bed of long-stemmed tulips. John Russell, the British art critic, once wrote that the rue de Rivoli seemed to say to mankind, “This is what life can be . . . and now it’s up to you to live it.” That’s what those days in Paris said to me. I wondered when, or if, I’d see the tulips again.

On assignment, I would play detective; partake of everything, get up early, record the details, do the things that felt strange and uncomfortable. But the assignment was over. Months passed and back in New York, the days grew shorter. Yet my head was still in Paris. It wasn’t a matter of missing cream confections flirting in the windows of boulangeries. I missed who I was in Paris—the other me, Stéphanie with the accent on the “e”: curious, improvisational, open to serendipity.

Finally, I took a long weekend to think about why I couldn’t let go of that particular assignment, why alone in Paris time seemed to be on my side; why my senses pricked up; why I was able to delight in the smallest of things and yet failed to see and feel with such intensity at home. Friends loaned me their empty house near a bay on Long Island where on an autumn afternoon I stepped off a bus with a week’s worth of reading and Chinese takeout. Without car or television, I spent days orbiting between a bench on the front porch and an oversize pink wing chair at the head of the dining room table, like the one at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the 1951 Disney film, eating vegetable lo mein and reading about different experiences of solitude. I plumbed newspaper archives and Gutenberg.org. I ordered used and out-of-print books. I wanted to know what scientists, writers, artists, musicians, and scholars thought about alone time, how they used it, why it mattered. Sometimes I walked a dead-end street to the bay. Other times I would lie on the wood floor in a patch of sun, staring at the ceiling, trying to deconstruct those solitary hours in Paris. There was something there; some way of living that I’d failed to fully grasp, let alone carry with me to my own city.

~ Stephanie Rosenbloom, from her “Introduction” to Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Penguin Publishing Group. June 5, 2018)

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She would be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
“For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned.” And she will.

~ Ted Kooser, “Selecting a Reader”, the opening poem in his new book: Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, May 8, 2018)


Notes:

  • Ted Kooser’s new collection went on sale at Amazon (only in Hardcover) this month for $28.69
  • Portrait of Ted Kooser via KUOW
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