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 And would likely dig through her trash to read her innermost, unpublished thoughts.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.”

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

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

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)

Walking. Swallowed up by Stegner…

172 mornings.

Today, 5:50 a.m., that’s 173.

Home to Cove Island Park, and back. Five mile loop.

Wallace Stegner (via Audible) has been keeping me company. The Spectactor Bird. Angle of Repose. Crossing to Safety. Remembering Laughter. All the Little Live Things.

And now, Stegner’s Recapitulation.

“Remembered habit created remembered reality. His needle ran in a groove.” (WS-R)

173 consecutive mornings. ~1,700,000 steps. I’d say that’s a groove.

As my feet pat the shoulder of the road, helicopters come whirling down from the red maples, illuminated against the street lamps. My mind lets go of the narration, I stop, and I watch, in silence. A warm gust of wind sends another troop of helicopters whirring down on me. Raining helicopters!

“That intense obsessed involvement, and then absence, silence.” (WS-R)

And then back to Stegner…and Recapitulation.

“Listen to those cottonwoods talking..Doesn’t that sound tell you, as much as any single signal in your life, who you are? Doesn’t it smell of sage and rabbit brush and shad scale? Doesn’t it have the feel of wet red ditch-bank sand in it, and the stir of a thunderstorm coming up over one of the little Mormon towns down in the plateaus? Just now, for a half second, it drowned me in associations and sensations. It brought back whole two people I used to love. When cottonwoods have been rattling at you all through your childhood, they mean home. I could have spent fifty years listening to the shamal thresh the palms in the date gardens of Hofuf, and never felt anything but out of place. But one puff of wind through those trees in the gully is enough to tell me, not that I have come home, but that I never left. Having let it surge through his head like the wind through the branches, he takes it back.” (WS-R)

And then, the aha moment.

My mind swimming in Stegner’s words for weeks.

Why so uninspired to write DK?

Try to follow behind that!

Forgettaboutit.


Notes:

  • WS-R = Wallace Stegner, Recapitulation (Penguin Books, November 1, 1997)
  • Photo: DK, Weed Ave, Stamford, CT. October 24, 2020. 6:26 am. 61° F.  Wind gusts: up to 13 mph.

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

Morning Walk (90 sec)


Written by Harry Stead, Why Long Walks Will Change Your Life (Human Parts @ Medium.com)

Tuesday Morning Wake-Up Call

img_0019

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

Hi Ho, Hi Ho. Off to Work We Go.

May you hear in your own stories
the moan of wind around the corners
of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember…

May you study your craft as you would study
a new friend or a long time, much loved lover.
And all the while, lost though you may be in the forest,
drop your own words on the path like pebbles
and write your way home.

– Pat Schneider, from “Blessing for a Writer” in “How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice” 


Source: Thank you Whiskey River. Photo: Anka Zhuravleva.  Inspired: “This is what poetry is: not a kind of public posturing but a private language of music and imagery that is strange and compelling enough that it can speak privately to thousands of people at the same time.” ~ Ilya Kaminsky, from “Still Dancing: An Interview With Ilya Kaminsky” by Garth Greenwell, March/April 2019 (Feb 13, 2019)

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.

Lightly child, lightly

“In the old days, my thoughts like tiny sparks would flare up in the almost dark of consciousness and I would transcribe them, and page after page shone with a light that I called my own. I would sit at my desk amazed by what had just happened. And even as I watched the lights fade and my thoughts become small, meaningless memorials in the afterglow of so much promise, I was still amazed. And when they disappeared, as they inevitably did, I was ready to begin again, ready to sit in the dark for hours and wait for even a single spark, though I knew it would shed almost no light at all. What I had not realized then, but now know only too well, is that sparks carry within them the wish to be relieved of the burden of brightness.”

Mark Strand, from “A Letter from Tegucigalpa” in Almost Invisible: Poems


Notes:

  • Photo: by Kristopher Roller (via aestum)
  • 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.”

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

head

Monday.
Me.
Tuesday.
Me.
Wednesday.
Me.
Thursday.
Me.
Friday.

~ Witold Gombrowicz, in the opening of Diary.  Just before the outbreak of World War II, young Witold Gombrowicz left his home in Poland and set sail for South America. In 1953, still living as an expatriate in Argentina, he began his Diary with one of literature’s most memorable openings.


Notes: Quote – Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: via seemore

Secrets of Success: Focus & Balance.

    

    


Don’t miss video here: Little Owl.  Source: HuffPost (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

%d bloggers like this: