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.

Sunday Morning

“You’re going to ask if you can marry my daughter,” Nan’s father said.

“Yes,” James answered.

“Why?”

James thought: Because she is jolly and pretty and bright, like a firefly, blinking in and out of hedges and trees. Because I imagine her in the kitchen, washing dishes, looking out the window and humming to herself, her brow knit in concentration. I imagine myself coming up behind her, putting my arms around her, resting my chin on her shoulder. I imagine her face turning up to me, bright and pale and astonishing, and I imagine her lips just before I kiss her, full and parted, almost singing the words of a song. Because I think beyond kissing her, because I think about her naked and warm under clean sheets and damp from the bath. I imagine her bare ankle rubbing against my own. I imagine her hair disheveled; I imagine myself smoothing it out of her eyes. I imagine making toast with her and eating it at a round table. When I do, I am just as crazed with passion for her as I would be in bed. There is no difference between imagining her naked and imagining her with a kerchief over her hair. 

“Because I love her,” he said.

~ Cara Wall, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, August 13, 2019)


Notes:

But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial

The more we use our screens, it seems, the more power we assign to books as objects, and to turning their literal pages as a timeless icon of languor. But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial, is perhaps no less picturesque. On this beautiful summer morning, while finishing this piece, I was happily distracted by the Twitter feed of a poet named Jeremy Proehl, who, like the mad, poverty-stricken Romantic poet John Clare, inscribes his verse on birch bark. Clare, who also concocted his own ink out of “a mix of bruised nut galls, green copper, and stone blue soaked in a pint and a half of rain-water,” was after permanence, not planned transience: he would not recognize his art in the notion that Proehl’s own bark poems will “fade and break apart in the weather.”

The Internet has no weather, and these dissolving poems will be preserved in every state of decay. What part of my summer morning was “reading,” and what part of it was distraction? Once I put the period on this sentence, I’m headed outside with a copy of John Clare’s poetry, along with my phone, in case I need to look up some images of chaffinches, hedge roses, or whitethorn shrubs.

~ Dan Chiasson, from “Reader, I Googled It” in The New Yorker, August 26, 2019


Photo: Jeremy Proehl – “I write poems on birch bark and hang them in the woods. I call them prayer poems. As they fade and break apart in the weather, like prayer flags, I hope the thoughts of the poems travel on.

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.

 

how easy it can be to find your own quiet place

Q: Is the image based on something you saw? How did it come to you?

“More than being based on something I saw, I would say it comes from something I experience often. I was trying to capture the feeling of being immersed in a book to the exclusion of everything around you. I think my love for reading comes more from the need to connect with my inner reality than from the desire to escape the external one. Proust described it perfectly as “that fertile miracle of communication that takes effect in solitude.” …

My first time in New York was in 2010, when I spent three months there, during the winter. My most vivid memories are connected to that first stay. I remember big blue skies, ice-cold feet, hot black coffees, fresh bagels, and huge pizza slices.

The gif was animated by the talented Jose Lorenzo. I often collaborate with him—I love the way he brings my images to life. We didn’t want the image to be too frenetic. For me, it was important to maintain that feeling of peace and timelessness that happens when you’re reading. I also wanted to show how easy it can be to find your own quiet place in the city without having to go far out of your way.”

Anna Pariniin response a question from , on this week’s cover in The New Yorker, which shows a rare moment of calm amid the bustle of a new year.  Parini, who has contributed illustrations to the magazine since 2015, grew up in Milan but is now based in Barcelona. Mouly spoke to Parini about New York’s wintry charms and the process of creating an animated cover image.

(Source: Anna Parini’s “A New Leaf”, The New Yorker, January 7, 2019)

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.

The Library Book

I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way…Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, I went there several times a week with my mother. On those visits, my mother and I walked in together but as soon as we passed through the door, we split up and each headed to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place I was ever given autonomy. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to head off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together we waited as the librarian at the counter pulled out the date card and stamped it with the checkout machine—that giant fist thumping the card with a loud chunk-chunk, printing a crooked due date underneath a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times. Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me; in the library I could have anything I wanted. After we checked out, I loved being in the car and having all the books we’d gotten stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking a bit to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. On the ride home, my mom and I talked about the order in which we were going to read our books and how long until they had to be returned, a solemn conversation in which we decided how to pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due…My mother then always mentioned that if she could have chosen any profession at all, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been…

Decades had passed and I was three thousand miles away. When we stepped in, the thunderbolt of recognition struck me so hard that it made me gasp…I felt like I had been lifted up and whisked back to that time and place, back to the scenario of walking into the library with my mother. Nothing had changed—there was the same soft tsk-tsk-tsk of pencil on paper, and the muffled murmuring from patrons at the tables in the center of the room, and the creak and groan of book carts, and the occasional papery clunk of a book dropped on a desk. The scarred wooden checkout counters, and the librarians’ desks, as big as boats, and the bulletin board with its fluttering, raggedy notices were all the same. The sense of gentle, steady busyness, like water on a rolling boil, was just the same.

~ Susan Orlean, edited from The Library Book (October 15, 2018)


Photo of Susan Orlean by Gaspar Triangle via Orlando Weekly

Miracle. All of it.

“You’re doing great, Nicole,” Jenny said suddenly, and these seemed like the first clear words I had heard in hours. “One, maybe two more pushes and she’ll be born!” It was the most powerful moment of my life, that moment shortly after one in the morning when I heard her cry and knew she was finally with us. Our daughter decided to come into the world with one fist raised. Seconds later she was placed on my chest, beautiful and flushed and still screaming at the shock of birth, and I touched her hair, her warm little cheek. Her skin felt impossibly soft, softer than I knew anything could be. At seven pounds, fifteen ounces, twenty inches long, she was not a small baby—her wails were also lusty, much louder than I’d expected—but she felt new and fragile in my arms. She stopped crying and gazed up at me, and my world shrank to the arresting dark blue pools of her eyes…

I had never been so tired, and I was sore to the very roots of my hair, but I couldn’t seem to close my eyes—how could anyone expect me to sleep when I had this fascinating little face to watch? It was almost impossible to believe this was the same unseen being who’d done jumping jacks on my bladder, greeting me with kicks and pokes and slow stretches for weeks on end. She was so small and so new, barely and yet wholly herself, already…

Suddenly I remembered the words of a friend…I love telling my kids their birth stories. It’s such a privilege to be able to do that. Yes, I thought, and also a miracle. The clichéd word didn’t embarrass me; this day and night was a wonder I’d never get over. As many times as this had happened before, to billions of parents since time immemorial, it was the only time it had ever happened to me. I had a child now, and she was mine. We were together. We would stay together. When Abby was old enough to ask me—to wonder, and to listen, and to care—I would tell her about her birth, her first days with us. You were born with one arm raised…I would say. When it was over, you and Daddy slept, but I couldn’t. All I wanted to do was look at you.

~ Nicole Chung, “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” (October 2, 2018)


Notes:

  • Photograph Credit
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: 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.”

They thought it was the best thing for you

The story my mother told me about them was always the same. Your birth parents had just moved here from Korea. They thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved. It’s the first story I can recall, one that would shape a hundred others once I was old enough and brave enough to go looking. When I was still young—three or four, I’ve been told—I would crawl into my mother’s lap before asking to hear it. Her arms would have encircled me, solid and strong where I was slight, pale and freckled against my light brown skin. Sometimes, in these half-imagined memories, I picture her in the dress she wore in our only family portrait from this era, lilac with flutter sleeves—an oddly delicate choice for my solid and sensible mother. At that age, a shiny black bowl cut and bangs would have framed my face, a stark contrast to the reddish-brown perm my mother had when I was young; I was no doubt growing out of toddler cuteness by then. But my mom thought I was beautiful. When you think of someone as your gift from God, maybe you can never see them as anything else. How could they give me up?…

Your birth parents were very sad they couldn’t keep you, but they thought adoption was the best thing for you. Even as a child, I knew my line, too. They were right, Mom. 

By the time I was five or six years old, I had heard the tale of my loving, selfless birth parents so many times I could recite it myself. I collected every fact I could, hoarding the sparse and faded glimpses into my past like bright, favorite toys. This may be all you can ever know…

Family lore given to us as children has such hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world. When tiny, traitorous doubts arose, when I felt lost or alone or confused about all the things I couldn’t know, I told myself that something as noble as my birth parents’ sacrifice demanded my trust. My loyalty.

They thought adoption was the best thing for you...

~ Nicole Chung, opening lines to “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” (October 2, 2018)

No one tells you this

I’d never been outside of Canada. When I complained about this growing up in our suburban house outside of Toronto, my father would helpfully point out that he’d once driven us across the border at Niagara Falls and then done a U-turn and driven us right back, so technically speaking I had, in fact, left the country. I was unmoved. Literally as well as figuratively. Unlike every other person I knew in Ontario, my family had not gone to Florida for winter vacation. We had not done the drive down I-95 to visit grandparents or go to Disney World. We didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo to take advantage of the cheaper American prices at the mall outlets. The MacNicols stayed put. Travel was for other people…

Growing up, nearly everything existed for me only in books, which had the effect of making all travel seem automatically rife with adventure and exoticism, no matter the reality. When friends complained about the terrible monotony of being trapped during spring break in the back of their parents’ car en route to Myrtle Beach, it fell on uncomprehending ears. To me, the concrete American Interstate held the same unknowable mystique as Paris. Perhaps it was less than surprising then that I cleaved on to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder the way I did: not only was she also an adventurous young girl, she was a real person; I could find the places she’d gone to on a map and know she’d actually been there, and that because she’d done it, perhaps I could do it, too. Eventually I found my way to those dots in real life along with many others, always slightly astounded that I had managed to manifest my own childhood imagination.

~ Glynnis MacNicolNo One Tells You This: A Memoir (July 10, 2018)


Book Review: HuffPost – ‘No One Tells You This’: The Triumph Of Choosing A Single, Childfree Life At 40

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