some peace to gather my addled thoughts….

So I have gone. There were days when I felt I had already gone and so all I wish for now is a cool, quiet room and some peace to gather my addled thoughts. I think I was good, although I could have been better.

—  Terry Pratchett, “I think I was good, though I could have been better’: Terry Pratchett and the writing of his life”. Pratchett had Alzheimer’s. Five months before he died, Terry Pratchett wrote five letters, sealed them in envelopes and locked them in the safe in his office to be opened after his death. This was the one he addressed to Rob Wilkins. Through the 1990s, Terry sold an average of 3 million books each year. Nobody in Britain sold more. (The Guardian, Sept 17, 2022)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I like to know how my story is going to end. And when I don’t know there is a kind of blind panic, which unsettles, unnerves, terrifies me. Like a wet finger run around the rim of the glass. I have to wait until the sound of this reverberating hum dissolves. Settles into silence again. And only then can I begin to breathe…

My days are spent constructing story, manipulating truths, assimilating life into fiction. To be performed, acted in, filmed, shot. I watch movies and comedies with the precise and earnest eye of a surgeon. Not because I believe I am anything special. I am a writer. Although that would denote a certain level of expertise. But in truth I feel a fraud. Uneducated. Unbrilliant. At times, frankly, illiterate. I lie about the books I’ve read. I am always trying not to be found out. If I am going to see a film, I prefer to have read all the reviews and to know the plot, beforehand. The joy I get is in piecing together the narrative. I like being one step ahead of the audience, with my insider knowledge, like some secondhand moonlighting cop, sifting over the pieces, working out how it is done. How it is being crafted.

—  Abi Morgan, excerpts from “This is Not a Pity Memoir” (Harper, June 7, 2022)

When I Went Away From the World

There’s no doubt I’m a Fan-Boy of Rachel Cusk, the British-Canadian novelist. I’ve read everything she’s published. And would likely dig through her trash to read her innermost, unpublished thoughts. (Now that’s getting creepy.) (And what a coincidence to be reading through the week’s papers to trip into this article with Spouse & #1 Son visiting the Greek Islands.)

Cusk has done it again with “When I Went Away From the World,” an essay in the NY Times Magazine, where she goes away to the Greek Islands on a commission to write an essay about marble.  The entire essay is worth reading but here’s a few nuggets.


…At another time I’m not sure I would have chosen to approach so cold and formal a subject. I tried not to see it as my duty to explain things to people, and nor did I want to become a copy-maker myself, since I was sure marble had been written about already in every conceivable way. I believed that everything could and should be understood by means of self-examination, but my self was tired and discouraged…

…We currently have a poor appetite for living, a result of being force-fed with experiences that have not agreed with us…”

…My addiction to incessant moving, bequeathed to me by my restless, discontented parents, had started to appear to me not as a matter for reconciliation and recovery, nor even as a panorama of losses, but as the steady accretion of some much greater entity, a dark growth inside me to which I had never been and would never be reconciled. Whatever it was — a debt or a disease or a fault line — this entity seemed to have arisen out of a fundamental disjuncture between appearance and reality that, I increasingly saw, had been allowed to eat out the heart of my life. I had made one home after another as a ship might frantically try to weigh its anchor in a storm — yet what was this storm that I alone was embroiled in?…

“…Marble, the metamorphic rock, embodied for me a dark paradox: It is change that produces changelessness. I had begun to read about the process of its formation, its subjection over epochal time to unrelenting heat and pressure where it lay buried in the earth, until finally the stone generated a response, recrystallizing and becoming more durable. An alteration of character occurred, a metamorphosis that was a reaction to extremes. A result was a loss of fallibility, of weakness. One might almost have said that the rock’s sufferings, its experience, had brought about its immortality. It was tempting to translate this notion into a metaphor for human development, except that the hardening of age felt so much like a move into powerlessness. With the feeling of increasing and unavoidable stasis, the power of change receded, to be replaced by a sort of helplessness before the facts. At a certain point the past becomes larger than the future, and its inalterability perhaps comes as a shock, because to be embroiled in living, in formation, is to forget the hard outcome of reality…”

“In the bars and cafes, groups of red-faced men and women sat drinking beer in the fierce sun. Smartly dressed young couples consulted one another across their tables in murmurs or sat in silence, looking at their phones. Older couples, sated with knowledge, surveyed their surroundings as though some challenge from outside to their choices and decisions might present itself at any moment. Flocks of shrieking delirious teenagers moved hilariously from one place to another, settling and then taking off again into the distance. The threads of association were almost visible, a net in the blue air, the way humans related to one another and clung to that relation or were fettered by it, their belief in themselves and one another, how hard it was in that state to remember that you could be dispassionately observed, that your world could be swept away in an instant. Their happiness was faintly astonishing…


Portrait by Laura Pannack, Time Magazine.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

with our lacks…—we do what we can—we give what we have.” Henry James, “The Middle Years

A writer works with what she lacks as well as what she has. (Watch a dancer adapt a movement to the constraints—the particular length and flexibility—of their limbs. Listen to an actor or singer shift a line’s rhythm to fit their range and timbre.) Assess your lacks to see what use they might be put to. Develop other sources of plenty.

Ask: What do I want desperately to write and how shall I write it? What am I trying not to write? When do my fluencies become clever distractions from what needs writing? How often have I watched with acute irritation a performer’s distractions, hissing silently, “Why don’t you stop making that step, that melody easier than it is? Why don’t you find another way, another technique to get at it? Take the risk that it won’t have the same affect you so admire and covet in some other artist. (That supple arabesque, that quietly sustained high note.) All right. You can’t get that longed-for effect by the same means. Have at it in another way! Can an unexpected tension in the line, a surreptitious harshness in that note make it work?”

Margo Jefferson, Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir (Pantheon, April 12, 2022)


Notes:

Lightly Child, Lightly

I lie on the floor…I sink into a sweet melancholy and rhythmic waves of words stream through me again. I write them down on brown wrapping paper and conclude sorrowfully that the poems are still not good enough. ‘Children’s poems,’ said Mr Krogh… Then one day I write something that is different from anything I’ve written before, only I don’t know what the difference is. I write the following:

There burns a candle in the night, it burns for me alone, and if I blow at it, it flames up, and flames for me alone. But if you breathe softly and if you breathe quietly, the candle is suddenly more than bright and burns deep in my own breast, for you alone.

—  Tove Ditlevsen, Youth: The Copenhagen Trilogy (FSG Originals (January 26, 2021)


Notes:

  • Photo: Jake Noren via unsplash
  • 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.”

as difficult to attain as a pair of wings and a halo

9/13/42. The most spiritual and “beautiful” literature has already been written—in the Bible, in the Greek dramas, in their philosophies. What we have to attain is at best the material representation, a poor substitute for the eternities we cannot logically hope to emulate. Spirituality in our day is as difficult to attain as a pair of wings and a halo.

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


Photo: DK @ Daybreak. December 20, 2021. 22° F, feels like 16° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

As I sit alone with these words, I think about how brave he was in so many ways, and how brave he was to go into that studio every day with his demons and his angels, and labor to put them on canvas. Nulla dia sine linea, No day without a line, is the motto at the Art Students League, from Pliny the Elder, derived from the Greek painter Apelles. The devotions.

— Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World: A Memoir.


Elizabeth Alexander was married to Ficre Ghebreyesus from 1997 until he died unexpectedly in 2012 days after his 50th birthday. Her memoir, “The Light of the World” is a story of her loss and her love.  The painting above was Ficre Ghebreyesus’ Middle Passage Figures with Solitary Boats (c. 2002–2007) (detail). Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 30 inches; 26.5 x 32.5 x 2 inches.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

What do you do religiously—not only often, but with great love and faith? Writing, painting, running, volunteering? Do one of those things today; do something religiously.

KEEP MOVING.

Maggie Smith, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change (Atria/One Signal Publishers, October 6, 2020)

All My Friends

This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends.

And to my wife, who lives with us.

Fredrik Backman, the opening dedication to his new book titled “Anxious People: A Novel” (Atria Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The first moment I wrote in my notebook again, I wrote of that fleeting feeling in the morning, of possibility.

That’s what I want Drifts to be, my desire and longing for it.

Kate Zambreno, Drifts: A Novel (Penguin, May 19, 2020)


Portrait of Kate Zambreno by Nikola Tamindzic

Lightly Child, Lightly

Working in silence, I try to do each task, from stir-fry to writing, as silently as possible—no radio or television or speakerphone—a consummately pleasant exercise to see how quietly I can work, how completely I may cultivate a light hand. Everything is improved in the process, including the task, its doing, and its outcome. The painter’s task—the writer’s task—the composer’s task—the gardener’s task—the cook’s task—the teacher’s task—the meditator’s task—the solitary’s task is to get out of the way, to dissolve and efface the self into the work at hand so as to permit its subject’s essence to shine forth. Cézanne wrote, “You don’t paint souls. You paint bodies; and when the bodies are well-painted, dammit, the soul—if they have one—the soul shines through all over the place.”

Fenton Johnson, At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life (W. W. Norton & Company, March 10, 2020)


Notes:

  • Image: Handwriting by Ecriture Infinie
  • 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.”

 

Tuesday Morning Wake-Up Call

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Epiphanies aren’t lightning bolts. They are a hummed note, a prayer mumbled constantly, brought to the surface given the right conditions. It’s as if I am always hearing three ways, first shallowly, collecting, then one level deeper as I’m processing, and finally, I am hearing with my body, which is when I’m hearing myself. That’s one way, for me, information combines with experience and becomes knowledge. I wish there were a shortcut.

Stephanie Danler, Stray: A Memoir (Knopf, May 19, 2020)


Notes: New York Times Book Review on “Stray: A Memoir” – “In ‘Stray,’ Stephanie Danler Asks How a Victim Becomes a Perpetrator

Go on.

Thirty years ago, I was remembering, an eminent writer had given me some unsolicited advice.

Just look at an orange, she said.

Go on looking at it. For hours.

Then put down what you see.

– C. P. Snow, Strangers and Brothers: Last Things


Photo: anka zhuravleva

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I suppose if there is a reckoning in middle age, it’s a tragic sense that you have been formed by things, and sent hither and thither by those things, and put in a frenzy and made to run around the place, and up and down the house in the service of those things, and they were not real. They were the product of your upbringing or conditioning or gender or social class. And I think there’s a certain point where suddenly the grip of all of that on you loosens. It’s like a stage set beginning to sort of crumble, and you start to see it wobbling, and I think you can get some really startling and frightening perspectives on identity once you start looking at it from there. The thought that you’ve wasted your entire life in the service of things that didn’t really exist – that you were in a prison where the door, in fact, was open, and you’ve sat there all this time . . .

~ Rachel Cusk, in an interview by Sheila Heti (Paris Review, Art of Fiction No. 246, Spring 2020)


Photo: Rachel Cusk in NY Times

get up ya bowsies /  and clean out your cells

What time of day do you write?

There’s an Irish song written by Brendan Behan that goes: In the early mornin’ /  the screws were bawling /  get up ya bowsies /  and clean out your cells. Well, that’s how I feel in the early morning: Get up, ya bowsie. I want to get up before the small mundanities and the stupidities and the prison guards of the Internet. Clean out my cell. Or my cells. Get the words down on paper. A perfect day for me begins in the dark before anyone else has woken, say 4:30 or 5 am. Two hours or so of this. In the quiet. And then, when the house begins to stir, the rest of my life will too. But for a small parcel of early morning hours, I feel entirely free. And then I go out and walk the dog.

~ Colum McCann, from “Colum McCann on Ulysses, Mary Lavin, and Drinking with John Berger” (Literary Hub, February 25, 2020)


Notes: Thank you Sawsan for sharing.

Driving I-95 N. With Words.

Friday night. Long week.

Commute home, I-95 N. Traffic snarled heading South – – my lanes, are dry and flowing. A quick, 22-minute ride home.

Hand reaches for Sirius Radio, and I rotate the dial past MSNBC News, 7 on 70’s, Fox Business and NPR.

I switch it off.

Low throbbing head ache, all of me yearning to keep noise level down.

Yet the mindless chatter upstairs won’t stop. Replaying todays’ events.

6am. Floor is empty. Desktop PC with two screens on my right are buzzing. Laptop on my left, on the side arm, is set to WordPress, the notifications tab open. “Comments” and “Likes” flash up intermittently, pulling me away from my emails.

Mimi’s schooling me (again) with her vocabulary. This time “doppelgänger.” Sorry, I didn’t have a clue. Had to google it.

Then she comes back with another: “palliative.” Had to google that too.

And then a few minutes later, here comes Kiki, from Switzerland. Neutral means nice, I thought, but Swiss German’s have no use for mediocrity or ignorance. And this one speaks 5  languages. Kiki comes in with her haymaker in a reply to Mimi’s comment: “I see that our dear friend didn’t know palliative, I really wondered…. Made me sad in a way I can’t explain.”

Sawsan is out there somewhere, floating around, not yet tweaked enough to get into the fray, but coiled and ready to strike if provoked.  This here, this show, he’s a 50+ year old Man-Child.

Lori. Professional Writer. Cringing at the typos, the misplaced commas and apostrophes, the dangling participle-things, the thin, repeating vocabulary – hits the “Like” button.  I have to give him a Courtesy-Like but please, I won’t drop down to this level and comment.

Raye.  Handle: “Jots from a Small Apt.” Artist. Poet. Witty. Looks around and says: “Nope. Won’t touch this one.”

Anneli. Her WP Blog Handle: “Words From Anneli.”  Looks at all this in Wonder. How did he even get this far?

Then I get home, sitting at the dinner table.  Susan: “aren’t you getting tired of posting pictures of puppies, babies, and other people’s words?”

My Response?

I have no Words!

 


Notes: Gif via nini-poppins.

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)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I still wasn’t sure exactly what form the painting would take. But I did know how I should begin. Those first steps—which brush to use, what color, the direction of the first stroke—had come to me out of nowhere: they had gained a foothold in my mind and, bit by bit, taken on a tangible reality of their own. I loved this process.

~ Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore: A Novel.  (Knopf, October 9, 2018)


Photo: cnd.ha (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

The still, quiet voice


“I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times during the ten years I was writing The Incendiaries. I love that song and its powers; I can’t tell you its name, lest it stop helping me. By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing. Even now, months after I last edited The Incendiaries, to play the song I can’t name is to be pulled back toward my novel, into my made-up town of Noxhurst. The still, quiet voice. That’s what I used to listen for, back when I was deeply religious: the still, quiet voice of God. I’ve lost that kind of faith, but I do believe in fiction’s voice, and in spending the rest of my life, or so I hope, listening for it.”

— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries: A Novel in Poets & Writers, July 26, 2018


From a book Review of The Incendiaries by Ron Charles in The Washington Post on July 23, 2018: ‘The Incendiaries’ is the most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be. “…Kwon, who was raised Roman Catholic and has said that she lost her faith in her teens, seems to understand with extraordinary sympathy just what that loss entails. And as her debut novel catches fire and burns toward its feverish conclusion, she offers a strikingly clear articulation of the fanatic’s mind-set: It’s not an excess of belief that drives some believers to violence; it’s a maddening lack of belief, which requires that radical action be substituted for faith. In a nation still so haunted by the divine promise, on the cusp of ever-more contentious debates about abortion and other intrinsically spiritual issues, ‘The Incendiaries’ arrives at precisely the right moment.”

unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them

I’ve learned to write on trains and in hotels and waiting rooms. On the tray tables on planes. I take notes at lunch, under the table, or in the bathroom. I write in museum stairwells, in cafés, in the car on the shoulder of the motorway. I jot things down on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, on my other hand, on napkins, in the margins of books. Usually they’re short sentences, little images, but sometimes I copy out quotes from the papers. Sometimes a figure carves itself out of the crowd, and then I deviate from my itinerary to follow it for a moment, start on its story. It’s a good method; I excel at it. With the years, time has become my ally, as it does for every woman—I’ve become invisible, see-through. I am able to move around like a ghost, look over people’s shoulders, listen in on their arguments and watch them sleep with their heads on their backpacks or talking to themselves, unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (August 13, 2018)


Olga Tokarczuk, 56, is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, becoming the first Polish writer to do so.  Tobias Grey wrote a profile of Tokarczuk in the NY Times on August 8, 2018 titled: Olga Tokarczuk’s Book ‘Flights’ Is Taking Off.” Here’s an excerpt from the profile:

“Ms. Tokarczuk likened herself to a tailor making a dress. ‘The dress is beautiful and comfortable to wear,’ she said. ‘But like the reader, the person who wears it is not expected to know precisely how all the materials that make it are connected.’ When Ms. Tokarczuk finished writing ‘Flights’ she gathered all her pages and spent a week studying them spread out on the floor of her living room. ‘It was funny because I had to climb onto a table to see how they looked from a high vantage point,’ she said. ‘I trusted my intuition to find the book’s order, and I wouldn’t change anything now.'”


Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk from Los Angeles Review of Books

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