In the Spaces Scattered Among Moments

Image: 'Self-Portrait: Me First, Safety Last #3,' by user MattsFlicks on Flickr.com

[Image: “Self-Portrait: Me First, Safety Last #3,” by user MattysFlicks on Flickr (used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!). This is actually a composite photo — multiple exposures: “one of the scene, one of myself with the hammer, one of my pried open eye while leaning over my workbench and a bunch of photos of a pair of safety glasses that I cut up using a pair of cable cutters and lineman’s pliers…  I brought everything into Photoshop, assembled the scene, and added some motion blurs, some blood, an umbilical cord, and some babes.” The photographer has posted several more of these staged accidents at Flickr — each capturing an apparent split-second while actually requiring hours of in-between time.]

From whiskey river:

Even in childhood I watched the hours flow, independent of any reference, any action, any event, the disjunction of time from what was not itself, its autonomous existence, its special status, its empire, its tyranny. I remember quite clearly that afternoon when, for the first time, confronting the empty universe, I was no more than a passage of moments reluctant to go on playing their proper parts. Time was coming unstuck from being—at my expense.

(Emil Cioran [source])

and:

Evening Talk

Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were the all-seeing
Illuminati? They knew what you didn’t,
And left you troubled like a strange dream.

Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs drifting among the evening clouds.

You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.

You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.

(Charles Simic [source])

and:

I want you to stop running from thing to thing to thing, and to sit down at the table, to offer the people you love something humble and nourishing, like soup and bread, like a story, like a hand holding another hand while you pray. We live in a world that values us for how fast we go, for how much we accomplish, for how much life we can pack into one day. But I’m coming to believe it’s in the in-between spaces that our lives change, and that the real beauty lies there.

(Shauna Niequist [source])

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Not the Weaponry of Reason, But of Pure Submission

'Easy,' by Rob Cruickshank on Flickr.com

[Image: “Easy,” by Rob Cruickshank. Found on Flickr.com; used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). No information available, really, although this seems likely to have been taken in the Hamilton, Ontario area.]

From whiskey river:

Terns

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails,

The years to come—this is a promise—
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
Over the rolling, salt brightness. Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and (in slightly different words):

Whatever exists in us is a natural situation. It is another dimension of natural beauty. People sometimes go to great lengths to appreciate nature, by climbing mountains, going on safari to see giraffes and lions in Africa, or taking a cruise to Antarctica. It is much simpler and more immediate to appreciate the natural beauty of ourselves. This is actually far more beautiful than flora and fauna, far more fantastic, far more painful, colorful, and delightful.

(Chögyam Trungpa [source])

and:

Seven in the Woods

Am I as old as I am?
Maybe not. Time is a mystery
that can tip us upside down.
Yesterday I was seven in the woods,
a bandage covering my blind eye,
in a bedroll Mother made me
so I could sleep out in the woods
far from people. A garter snake glided by
without noticing me. A chickadee
landed on my bare toe, so light
she wasn’t believable. The night
had been long and the treetops
thick with a trillion stars. Who
was I, half-blind on the forest floor
who was I at age seven? Sixty-eight
years later I can still inhabit that boy’s
body without thinking of the time between.
It is the burden of life to be many ages
without seeing the end of time.

(Jim Harrison [source])

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Caught Unawares

Image: 'Your Reflection May Be You,' by Simon Matzinger on Flickr

[Image: “Your reflection may be you,” by Simon Matzinger. Found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and:

Imagine that one day you are out for a walk in the woods. Suddenly you see a small spaceship on the path in front of you. A tiny Martian climbs out the spaceship and stands on the ground looking up at you…

What would you think? Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself?

It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.

I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.

You feel as if you are waking from an enchanted slumber. Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?

If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.

(Jostein Gaarder [source])

and:

Psychologists and psychiatrists are moving from their traditional hostility to ecstasy to an understanding that it’s often good for us. Much of our personality is made up of attitudes that are usually subconscious. We drag around buried trauma, guilt, feelings of low self-worth. In moments of ecstasy, the threshold of consciousness is lowered, people encounter these subconscious attitudes, and are able to step outside of them. They can feel a deep sense of love for themselves and others, which can heal them at a deep level. Maybe this is just an opening to the subconscious, maybe it’s a connection to a higher dimension of spirit — we don’t know… The journey beyond the self is not safe or predictable. On the other hand, staying in the self also has its risks — boredom, staleness, sterility, despair. Ultimately, there’s something in us that calls to us, that pulls us out the door.

(Jules Evans, thrive [source])

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Things Flare Up… and Then — Poof!

Metanoia, by Patricia Wu Wu (via Glasgow School of Art) on Flickr

[Image: “Metanoia: transformation, a change of heart or mind,” by Patricia Wu Wu; found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). It’s not clear, exactly, but this image seems to be a draft, of sorts — sketches in black ink or paint: Patricia Wu Wu is a fashion/textiles designer. Apparently this image was included in her “Metanoia” show at the Glasgow School of Art (see the corresponding Flickr album for more). You can see more of the work she exhibited there at her own site.]

From whiskey river:

Then again, if physics is right, we shouldn’t exist. You can watch ions hop across synapses, follow nerve impulses from nose to toes; nothing in any of those processes would lead you to expect the emergence of subjective awareness. Physics describes a world of intelligent zombies who do everything we do, except understand that they’re doing it. That’s what we should be, that’s all we should be: meat and computation. Somehow the meat woke up. How the hell does that even work?

(Peter Watts [source])

and:

Prelude

Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.
Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler
sinks toward the green zone of morning.
Things flare up. From the viewpoint of the quivering lark
he is aware of the huge root systems of the trees,
their swaying underground lamps. But above ground
there’s greenery—a tropical flood of it—with
lifted arms, listening
to the beat of an invisible pump. And he
sinks toward summer, is lowered
in its dazzling crater, down
through shafts of green damp ages
trembling under the sun’s turbine. Then it’s checked,
this straight-down journey through the moment, and the wings spread
to the osprey’s repose above rushing waters.
The bronze-age trumpet’s
outlawed note
hovers above the bottomless depths.

In day’s first hours consciousness can grasp the world
as the hand grips a sun-warmed stone.
The traveler is standing under a tree. After
the crash through death’s turbulence, shall
a great light unfold above his head?

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

The plain truth is we are going to die. Here I am, a teeny speck surrounded by boundless space and time, arguing with the whole of creation, shaking my fist, sputtering, growing even eloquent at times, and then — poof! I am gone. Swept off once and for all. I think that is very, very funny.

(Charles Simic [source (via)])

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Freshly Unchanged

Arsia Mons, a Martian volcano last active around 50 million years ago

[Image: The Arsia Mons volcano on Mars; image courtesy of NASA, via Flickr. The original (very complete) page of information at the NASA site itself quotes a researcher, one Jacob Richardson, who says, “We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago–the late Jurassic period on Earth–and then died out around the same time as Earth’s dinosaurs.” It built up slowly, very slowly: Richardson says, “Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma… Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth.” The caldera is about 68 miles (110 kilometers) in diameter, and “deep enough to hold the entire volume of water in Lake Huron, and then some.” (For comparison, the surface area of Lake Huron, per Wikipedia, is about 23,000 miles; the Arsia Mons caldera’s surface area works out to less than 15,000 square miles — the caldera is much deeper than the Great Lake.)]

From whiskey river:

Theory of Memory

Long, long ago, before I was a tormented artist, afflicted with longing yet incapable of forming durable attachments, long before this, I was a glorious ruler uniting all of a divided country—so I was told by the fortune-teller who examined my palm. Great things, she said, are ahead of you, or perhaps behind you; it is difficult to be sure. And yet, she added, what is the difference? Right now you are a child holding hands with a fortune-teller. All the rest is hypothesis and dream.

(Louise Glück [source])

and:

The Ordinary Life

To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,

dress. Another day of what we bring to it –
matters unfinished from days before,
regrets over matters we’ve finished poorly.

Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone

but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,

no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])

and:

Buddhists say that thoughts are like drops of water on the brain; when you reinforce the same thought, it will etch a new stream into your consciousness, like water eroding the side of a mountain. Scientists confirm this bit of folk wisdom: our neurons break connections and form new pathways all the time.

(Caitlin Doughty [source])

and:

Theoretically there is no absolute proof that one’s awakening in the morning (the finding oneself again in the saddle of one’s personality) is not really a quite unprecedented event, a perfectly original birth.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

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A Careful Decoding of the Obvious

'Now This One Shouldn't Be Too Hard to Locate!,' by user 'whatsthatpicture' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Now this one shouldn’t be too hard to locate!,” by Photos of the Past — a/k/a user “whatsthatpicture” — on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is one of a so-called “photo pool” by this Flickr user and others; the series consists of over 5,000 old photos taken in what are (obviously or less so) specific locations. The modern-day user then attempts to locate that setting in our own time frame, via Google Street View. If you read the comments at the Flickr page for this specific photo, you can see what the process is. In this case, it included, ultimately, transferring the image to the Google Street View “overlay” site called Historypin: there, a little slider gizmo at the top of the Street View lets you fade out the old photo, and fade it back in, in order to see how its subject fits into the latter-day scene.]

From whiskey river:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, and think this to be normal, is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

(Douglas Adams [source])

and:

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and:

Cliché

My life is an open book. It lies here
on a glass tabletop, its pages shamelessly exposed,
outspread like a bird with hundreds of thin paper wings.

It is a biography, needless to say,
and I am reading and writing it simultaneously
in a language troublesome and private.
Every reader must be a translator with a thick lexicon.

No one has read the whole thing but me.
Most dip into the middle for a few paragraphs,
then move on to other shelves, other libraries.
Some have time only for the illustrations.

I love to feel the daily turning of the pages,
the sentences unwinding like string,
and when something really important happens,
I walk out to the edge of the page
and, always the student,
make an asterisk, a little star, in the margin.

(Billy Collins [source])

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Wrong, Wrong, Uncertainly Right

Flickr.com: '041/365 - Skeptical,' by Artamir78 on Flickr

[Image: “041/365 – Skeptical,” by Artamir78 on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you.

(Philip Roth [source])

and:

Theories of Personal Identity

The photograph;
the past life;
the long lost
black sheep who’s become
the shoe that fits.
The ghost town,
a.k.a. the rummage bin,
that old sweet song.
The suitcase; the hotel
room; the surprise
box lunch; the plain
brown wrapper. The umbrella
someone opened in the house.
The alphabet, or perhaps
I mean a river, or a well.
The skeleton in the closet.
The writing on the wall.
The telltale heart.

(Jan Zwicky [source])

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Wait

Image: 'Kitsuno' (uncredited image)

[Image: painting (?) by an unknown artist, of an encounter between a sleeping man and what appears to be a kitsuno disguised as a woman. This looks like a photograph of a painting; if so, I don’t know who took the photo, either. (I found it at this page on Tumblr, which has numerous other images of the same creature, from other sources.) For more about the kitsuno legend (a version of which is alluded to in Hannah Sanghee Park’s poem, below), see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

The death of self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s spirits and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with a stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce. The waiting itself is the thing.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and:

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

(John Berger [source])

and:

Alcaic

This forest in May. It haunts my whole life:
the invisible moving van. Singing birds.
In silent pools, mosquito larvae’s
furiously dancing question marks.

I escape to the same places and same words.
Cold breeze from the sea, the ice-dragon’s licking
the back of my neck while the sun glares.
The moving van is burning with cool flames.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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Time, Time, Time, See What’s Become of Me

Image: 'Behind You,' by Tom Waterhouse on Flickr.com

[Image: “Behind You,” by Tom Waterhouse; found it on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). The photographer says that he first saw the stencil of the girl looking over her shoulder, then crouched down and waited about twenty minutes for the shot. He knew he’d recognize it when it came.]

From whiskey river:

Preludes
(excerpt)

II

Two truths approach each other. One comes from within,
one comes from without—and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
Noticing what is about to happen, you shout desperately: “Stop!
Anything, anything, as long as I don’t have to know myself.”

And there is a boat that wants to put in—tries to, right here—
it will try again thousands of times.
Out of the forest’s dark comes a long boat hook
that’s pushed through the open window
among the party guests who have danced themselves warm.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

Living is moving; time is a live creek bearing changing lights. As I move, or as the world moves around me, the fullness of what I see shatters… “Last forever!” Who hasn’t prayed that prayer?… You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying; it is a canvas, nevertheless…

But there is more to the present than a series of snapshots. We are not merely sensitized film; we have feelings, a memory for information and an eidetic memory for the imagery of our pasts.

Our layered consciousness is a tiered track for an unmatched assortment of concentrically wound reels. Each one plays out for all of life its dazzle and blur of translucent shadow-pictures; each one hums at every moment its own secret melody in its own unique key. We tune in and out. But moments are not lost. Time out of mind is time nevertheless, cumulative, informing the present. From even the deepest slumber you wake with a jolt — older, closer to death, and wiser, grateful for breath…

But time is the one thing we have been given, and we have been given to time. Time gives us a whirl. We keep waking from a dream we can’t recall, looking around in surprise, and lapsing back, for years on end. All I want to do is stay awake, keep my head up, prop my eyes open, with toothpicks, with trees.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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Department of Unmagical Thinking

Image: '1688 miracle,' by nebojsamladjenovic on Flickr.com

[Image: “1688 miracle,” by nebojsa mladjenovic on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

A certain man… once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish—but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

and:

Making a Fist

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

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