Making a World

[Image: photo of Frío Estudio del Desastre (Frozen Study of a Disaster) (2005), by the Cuban artistic duo calling themselves Los Carpinteros. The installation — part of a larger exhibit and book, Handwork: Constructing the World — depicts the moment at which a missile has burst through the wall… but omits the missile. For more info, see this museum site’s page.]

From whiskey river:

Writing is a very, very unnatural act. Most people are out living — their bodies are, they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re working and playing and they’re interacting. Writing’s very unnatural because you are not living when you write. But at the same time, what a great paradox — because you’re all writers so you all know. You’re all going, Oh but no, no, I’m most alive when I write. So are you more living or less, we can’t use “more” or “less,” it’s just different. And this is the crux of any writer’s life. It is the essential paradox and question and torment and joy. Are you writing or living and what’s the difference and where’s the line and how do we divide those activities?

I’ve spent my whole life thinking, Is this unnatural? Shouldn’t someone be parading outside my apartment with a cardboard placard saying, “Insanity’s taking place on the inside?” They really should, there’d be a point to it. And then, in other moods, I go, No, no, no, the insanity’s taking place out there. And I waffle back and forth. And this waffling back and forth, when you yourself experience it, it’s called life. And you are going to experience this waffling back and forth for the rest of your life. And whenever you do, don’t think you’re unnatural or broken or different. It’s life, and we’re living it, and that tension is life.

(Mary Ruefle [source: see the note below])


After a Rain

They noticed, you see, that I was a noticing
kind of person, and so they left the dictionary
out in the rain and I noticed it,
I noticed it was open to the rain page,
much harm had come to it, it had aged to the age
of ninety-five paper years and I noticed rainbow
follows rain in the book, just as it does on
earth, and I noticed it was silly of me to
notice so much but I noticed there is no stationery
in heaven, I noticed an infant will grip your hand like
there is no tomorrow, while the very aged
will give you a weightless hand for the same reason,
I noticed in a loving frenzy that some are hemlocked
and others are not (believe me yours unspeakably obliged),
I noticed whoever I met in my search for entrance
into this world went too far (but that was their
destination) and I noticed the road followed roughly
the route of a zipper around a closed case,
I noticed the sea was human but no one believed me,
and that some birds have the wingspan of an inch
and some flowers the petal span of a foot yet the two
are very well suited to each other, I noticed that.
There are eight major emotional states but I forget
seven of them, I can hear the ambulance singing
but I don’t think it will stop for me,
because I noticed the space between the waterfall and
the rock and I am safe there, resting in
the cradle of all there is, the way a sea horse
(when it is tired) will tie its tail to a seaweed
and rest, and there has not been, in my opinion,
enough astonishment over this fact, so now I will
withdraw my interest in the whole external world
while I am in the noticing mode, notice how I
talk to you just as if you were sitting on my lap
and not as if it were raining, not as if there were
a sheet of water between us or anything else.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

Not from whiskey river (in response to the question, “How does a book take shape for you?”):

That’s a vast topic, and, to be honest, one I barely understand. Even in the case of a naturalistic writer, who in a sense takes his subject matter directly from the world around him, it’s difficult enough to understand how a particular fiction imposes itself. But in the case of an imaginative writer, especially one like myself with strong affinities to the surrealists, I’m barely aware of what is going on. Recurrent ideas assemble themselves, obsessions solidify themselves, one generates a set of working mythologies, like tales of gold invented to inspire a crew. I assume one is dealing with a process very close to that of dreams, a set of scenarios devised to make sense of apparently irreconcilable ideas. Just as the optical centers of the brain construct a wholly artificial three-dimensional universe through which we can move effectively, so the mind as a whole creates an imaginary world that satisfactorily explains everything, as long as it is constantly updated. So the stream of novels and stories continues.

(J.G. Ballard [source]


…the tree from which our little fantasy town took its name stood in the town square. It had broad leaves, like a maple or pin oak, but grew in the shape of a pine: a straight, tall cone. It lost its leaves every autumn, like other broadleaves. But every other spring, it also shed its bark. The bark fell off in big brown sheets. Little children in town would be sent to dance around the tree and collect the sheets of bark, on a festive biennial holiday naturally called Barking Day, and the bark would be ground up and soaked in water, compressed and dried, and made into rugged covers for the volumes of the town archives which were kept down in the library. When I, Peedee, grew up, I would be the Barking Tree town librarian in my spare time — my actual job would be to fight evil whereversoever it raised its foul head — so anybody who wanted to check the archives about Barking Tree history or laws would have to go through me. (But I would be generous, I explained later. The turnstile granting entry to the library would accept coins as small as a 200-croner gold piece, the croner being the unit of currency in Barking Tree.)

So that was the barking tree, then, which for several weeks every couple of years stood exposed to the elements and insects and human mischief. Every bad thing which happened to the tree during that time eventually got covered over with new bark and absorbed into the wood, but continued to shape the tree for the rest of its life.

(JES, from Barking Tree)


Note: The first Mary Ruefle quote from whiskey river — about the unnaturalness of writing — comes from a September talk between Ruefle and Alice Quinn, one of a “Poets in Conversation” series sponsored by the NYU Creative Writing program. I’ve not found a transcript, but I did locate a good-quality MP3 podcast of it, over an hour long (and, to be honest, I haven’t listened to it in full).

[NB: The whole thing is pretty large, in the neighborhood of 80MB: if you’re thinking of clicking the little “Download” link below to acquire your own copy, prepare yourself for a wait.]

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  1. Hmm. I’ll have to find more Mary Ruefle poetry.

  2. I’m gone for too long.

    And I now might be in love with Mary Ruefle. Wonderful quotes. In a few minutes I will listen to the conversation.

    Also, I’ll come back to look for more gems from JES.



  3. “Every bad thing which happened to the tree during that time eventually got covered over with new bark and absorbed into the wood, but continued to shape the tree for the rest of its life.” That is beautiful.

    The others keep good company with you. ;)

    (I’ll be back to follow some Ruefle links, too.)

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