Name Time

'La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),' by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr

[Image: “La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),” by Oiluj Samall Zeid; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. The site is a mausoleum in León, Spain, commemorating Republicans killed in the Spanish Civil War. Each nameplate represents one victim.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

[Interviewer Terry] Gross: I’d like you to read another poem from your book “Book of Longing.” And this is called “Titles.” Would you tell us when you wrote this?

[Leonard] Cohen: I’ve been writing it for a while. But I finished it last winter in Montreal. It’s a poem called “Titles.”

(Reading) I had the title Poet. And maybe I was one for a while. Also, the title Singer was kindly accorded me even though I could barely carry a tune. For many years, I was known as a Monk. I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early. I hated everyone. But I acted generously. And no one found me out. My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone. From a third-story window above the Parc du Portugal, I’ve watched the snow come down all day.

As usual, there’s no one here. There never is. Mercifully, the inner conversation is canceled by the white noise of winter. I am neither the mind, the intellect nor the silent voice within. That’s also canceled. And now, gentle reader, in what name — in whose name — do you come to idle with me in this luxurious and dwindling realms of aimless privacy?

(Leonard Cohen [source])

and:

The secrets to living are these:
First, the past cannot be improved upon.
Acknowledge what was and move on.
Next, the future cannot be molded.
Then, why bother?
Last, nothing can ultimately be controlled;
Not the past, nor the future, nor the present.
Accept this moment as it is.
Honoring these three,
One lives without shackles.

(Wu Hsin [source])

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The Oh at the Heart of You

'black square sun hype?Really eclipsed through layers of social housing blocks,' by user hinkelstone on Flickr

[Image: “black square sun hypeRReally eclipsed through layers of social housing blocks,” by user “hinkelstone” (Karl-Ludwig Poggemann) on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (The first capital R in the image name is supposed to display as a Cyrillic “backwards R,” which doesn’t seem to work for me.) Explaining how this image was accomplished, the photographer says, “The black square sun immersing into eastern-bloc-style housing estate facades were meant for a HDRI — but instead Photomatrix 2.4.1 synthesized a kind of hyperreal sunscape from a pair of location shots that were taken at 18:29:07 and 18:29:44 [local times]: During those 37 seconds the red sun disc had been shifting further downwards and into the northern (‘HyperBorean‘) wind direction.” This explanation may very well be more comprehensible to you than to me.]

From whiskey river:

To Be Human Is To Sing Your Own Song

Everything I can think of that my parents
thought or did I don’t think and I don’t do.
I opened windows, they shut them. I pulled
open the curtains, they shut them. If you
get my drift. Of course there were some
similarities—they wanted to be happy
and they weren’t. I wanted to be Shelley and I
wasn’t. I don’t mean I didn’t have to avoid
imitation, the gloom was pretty heavy. But
then, for me, there was the forest, where
they didn’t exist. And the fields. Where I
learned about birds and other sweet tidbits
of existence. The song sparrow, for example.

In the song sparrow’s nest the nestlings,
those who would sing eventually, must listen
carefully to the father bird as he sings
and make their own song in imitation of his.
I don’t know if any other bird does this (in
nature’s way has to do this). But I know a
child doesn’t have to. Doesn’t have to.
Doesn’t have to. And I didn’t.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

(Fyodor Dostoevsky [source])

and (italicized lines):

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

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At Root

[Video: launch trailer for the puzzle game Antichamber. I haven’t played it (yet), but the object
seems to be to keep moving forward — when the answer to the question, “Move forward
from
where?” changes constantly. The game’s designer says that it has an end… despite the appearance
(to me) of an edgeless, centerless geometry of edges and centers.*]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Isle of Mull, Scotland

Because by now we know everything is not so green elsewhere.

The cities tied their nooses around our necks,
we let them without even seeing.

Not even feeling our breath soften
as clumps of shed wool scattered across days.

Not even. This even-ing, balance beam of light on green,
the widely lifted land, resonance of moor
winding down to water, the full of it. Days of cows
and sheep bending their heads.

We walked where the ancient pier juts into the sea.
Stood on the rim of the pool, by the circle
of black boulders. No one saw we were there
and everyone who had ever been there
stood silently in air.

Where else do we ever have to go, and why?

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

and:

The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.

(Peter Matthiessen [source])

…and:

Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed.

And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be.

I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” It is never too early, either.

(Anna Quindlen [source])

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Particles of Moments, Waves of Life

[Video: trailer for The Heart & The Sea, a 2012 feature by Australian filmmaker  Nathan Oldfield.
See the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Through loyalty to the past, our mind refuses to realize that tomorrow’s joy is possible only if today’s makes way for it; that each wave owes the beauty of its line only to the withdrawal of the preceding one; that each flower owes it to itself to fade for the sake of its fruit; that the fruit, unless it falls and dies, cannot assure new blooms, so that spring itself rests on winter’s grief.

(André Gide [source])

and:

Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.

(André Gide [source])

and:

Up Jumped Spring

for Nana

What’s most fantastical almost always goes
unrecorded and unsorted. Take spring.
Take today. Take dancing dreamlike; coffee
your night, creameries your dream factories.
Take walking as a dream, the dearest, sincerest
means of conveyance: a dance. Take leave
of the notion that this nation’s or any other’s earth
can still be the same earth our ancestors walked.
Chemistry strains to connect our hemispheres.
The right and left sidelines our brain forms
in the rain this new world braves – acid jazz.
The timeless taste her tongue leaves in your mouth,
stirred with unmeasured sugars, greens the day
the way sweet sunlight oxygenates, ignites
all nights, all daytimes, and you – this jumps.
Sheer voltage leaps, but nothing keeps or stays.
Sequence your afternoon as dance. Drink spring.
Holding her hard against you, picture the screenplay.
Take time to remember to get her spells together.
Up jumps the goddess gratified, and up jumped spring.

(Al Young [source])

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Still, Life

'Snow Face, Straight On' (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a winter photo by Janet Nezon

[Image: “Snow Face, Straight On” (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a wintry photo
by Janet Nezon at her
Lessons from Gus blog]

From whiskey river:

…It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it… I know that sounds a little pious.

(David Foster Wallace [source]

…and:

Motto

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

…and:

Pleasures

First look from morning’s window
The rediscovered book
Fascinated faces
Snow, the change of the seasons
The newspaper
The dog
Dialectics
Showering, swimming
Old music
Comfortable shoes
Comprehension
New music
Writing, planting
Traveling
Singing
Being friendly.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

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What Doesn’t Change

[Video: “Every Day the Same Dream,” based on the Flash-based game of the same name]

From whiskey river:

I do not believe the meaning of life is a puzzle to be solved. Life is. Anything might happen. And I believe I may invest my life with meaning. The uncertainty is a blessing in disguise. If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease.

(Robert Fulghum)

… and:

Formaggio

The world
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.

It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.

On Huron Avenue they became
a block of stores; they became
Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever
they were or sold, they were
alike in their function: they were
visions of safety. Like
a resting place. The salespeople
were like parents; they appeared
to live there. On the whole,
kinder than parents.

Tributaries
feeding into a large river: I had
many lives. In the provisional world,
I stood where the fruit was,
flats of cherries, clementines,
under Hallie’s flowers.

I had many lives. Feeding
into a river, the river
feeding into a great ocean. If the self
becomes invisible has it disappeared?

I thrived. I lived
not completely alone, alone
but not completely, strangers
surging around me.

That’s what the sea is:
we exist in secret.

I had lives before this, stems
of a spray of flowers: they became
one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon
visible under the hand. Above the hand,
the branching future, stems
ending in flowers. And the gripped fist —
that would be the self in the present.

(Louise Glück)

and:

You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.

(Alain de Botton)

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It’s Right in Front of You

[Image: unretouched photograph of an anamorphically-painted building interior, by French artist George Rousse; I found it here. As suggested at that site, be sure to see the video about Rousse’s “Durham (NC) project.” And while you’re at it, check out the similar but sometimes entire city-sized work of Swiss artist Felice Varini. I couldn’t decide which artist’s work to feature here and finally flipped a coin.]

From whiskey river:

Flaws

I had been worrying once again
about sad lives
and almost perfect art, Van Gogh,

Kafka, so when that voice on the radio
sang about drinking
a toast to those who most survive

the lives they’ve led, I drank that toast
in the prayerless
sanctum of my room, I said it

out loud in a hush. Then I thought
of Dr. Williams
who toward the end apologized

to his wife for doing everything
he had loved to do.
He was speaking of course to death,

not to her, though death instructed him
how valuable she was.
I thought of a lamp the neighbor’s child

had broken, then pieced back together
with wires and glue.
And my friend, the good husband,

kissing the scars his wife brought home
after the mastectomy.
I drank that toast again, though silently.

The radio was playing something old
and bad
I once thought was good.

Flaws. Suddenly the act of trying
to say how it feels
to live a life, to say it flawlessly,

seemed more immense than ever. Then
I remembered
those Persian rug makers built them in,

the flaws, because only Allah was perfect.
What arrogance to think
that otherwise they wouldn’t be there!

I allowed myself to wonder
about the ethics
of repair, but just for a while.

Sleep, too, was on my mind
and I knew
the difficulty that lay ahead:

how hard I’d try when I couldn’t,
how it would come
if only I could find a way

to enter and drift without concern
for what it is.

(Stephen Dunn [source])

and:

I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.

(William Stafford [source])

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Not Trying Quite So Hard, But It Feels Right

[Image: “Comb of Retrospection,” by Michael Leunig]

From whiskey river:

How I Would Paint Happiness

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No —
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
too beautiful to touch.

(Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New And Selected Poems [source])

and:

suggestion

maybe we try too hard to be
remembered, waking to the
glowing yellow disc in ignorance,
swearing that today will be
the day, today we will make
something of our lives. what

if we are so busy searching
for worth that we miss the
sapphire sky and cackling
blackbird. what else is missing?

maybe our steps are too straight
and our paths too narrow and
not overlapping. maybe when
they overlap someone in another
country lights a candle, a couple

resolves their argument, a young
man puts down his silver gun
and walks away.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

and (which reminds me of my commenters):

Not just any talk is conversation; not any talk raises consciousness. Good conversation has an edge: it opens your eyes to something, quickens your ears. And good conversation reverberates: it keeps on talking in your mind later in the day; the next day, you find yourself still conversing with what was said. That reverberation afterward is the very raising of consciousness; your mind’s been moved. You are at another level with your reflections.

(James Hillman, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse [source])

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The Watchful Mind

[A museum’s 3D representation of Wilder Penfield’s so-called “cortical homunculus” depicting the relative importance of various senses, as measured by the percentage of our brains devoted to them. Photo by Robep on Flickr; click for original.]

From whiskey river:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

and:

Looking Around, Believing

How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind — white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started
In the yard with my daughter,
With my wife poking at a potted geranium,
And now I am walking down the street,
Amazed that the sun is only so high,
Just over the roof, and a child
Is singing through a rolled newspaper
And a terrier is leaping like a flea
And at the bakery I pass, a palm,
Like a suctioning starfish, is pressed
To the window. We’re keeping busy —
This way, that way, we’re making shadows
Where sunlight was, making words
Where there was only noise in the trees.

(Gary Soto [source])

and (what the heck, the river was on a roll this week):

Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it is really worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass them on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.

(Miranda July, from “The Shared Patio” [source])

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What’s Your Story? (Are You Sure?)

From whiskey river:

The Story, Around the Corner

is not turning the way you thought
it would turn, gently, in a little spiral loop,
the way a child draws the tail of a pig.
What came out of your mouth,
a riff of common talk.
As a sudden weather shift on a beach,
sky looming mountains of cloud
in a way you cannot predict
or guide, the story shuffles elements, darkens,
takes its own side. And it is strange.
Far more complicated than a few phrases
pieced together around a kitchen table
on a July morning in Dallas, say,
a city you don’t live in, where people
might shop forever or throw a thousand stories
away. You who carried or told a tiny bit of it
aren’t sure. Is this what we wanted?
Stories wandering out,
having their own free lives?
Maybe they are planning something bad.
A scrap or cell of talk you barely remember
is growing into a weird body with many demands.
One day soon it will stumble up the walk and knock,
knock hard, and you will have to answer the door.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

and (italicized portion):

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be “interesting” to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. Or at least we do for a while.

(Joan Didion, The White Album [source])

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