Perspective, Proportion, Sweet Spot

[Image: “Perspective,” a portion of Engineered Biotopes; this was an entry in a 2010 Greek architectural competition called “Piraeus Tower 2010 — Changing the Face/Façades Reformation.” For more on the competition, and this entry in particular, see this page at the Bustler architecture/design site.]

From whiskey river:

To My Doppelganger

You were always the careful one,
who’d tiptoe into passion
and cut it in half with your mind.
I allowed you that, and went
happier, wilder ways. Now
every thought I’ve ever had
seems a rope knotted
to another rope, going back
in time. We’re intertwined.
I’ve learned to hesitate
before even the most open door.
I don’t know what you’ve learned.
But to go forward, I feel,
is to go together now. There’s a place
I’d like to arrive by nightfall.

(Stephen Dunn [source])


It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours — arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short just wants to be.

(Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything [source])

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Well-Fancied Choices

[Video: “custom movie trailer” for the 1945 film Detour. A piano player hitchhikes across the United States to be with his girl. On the way, he crosses paths with The Wrong Woman…]

From whiskey river:


In every instant, two gates.
One opens to fragrant paradise, one to hell.
Mostly we go through neither.

Mostly we nod to our neighbor,
lean down to pick up the paper,
go back into the house.

But the faint cries — ecstasy? horror?
Or did you think it the sound
of distant bees,
making only the thick honey of this good life?

(Jane Hirshfield, The Lives of the Heart [source])


What we have deduced about the Big Bang is almost exactly wrong. Instead of a Big Bang, the genesis of the universe consisted of the uneventful, accidental, hushed production of a single quark.

For thousands of millennia, nothing occurred. The solitary particle floated in silence. Eventually it considered moving. Like all elementary particles, it realized that its direction of travel in time was arbitrary. So it shot forward in time and, looking back, it realized that it had left a single pencil stroke across the canvas of space-time.

It raced back through time in the other direction, and saw that it had left another stroke.

The single quark began to dash back and forth in time, and like the individually meaningless actions of an artist’s pencil, a picture began to emerge.

If it feels to you that we’re connected by a larger whole, you’re mistaken: we’re connected by a smaller particle. Every atom in your body is the same quark in different places at the same moment in time. Our little quark sweeps like a frenetic four-dimensional phosphor gun, painting the world: each leaf on every tree, every coral in the oceans, each car tire, every bird carried on the wind, all the hair on all the heads in the world. Everything you have ever seen is a manifestation of the same quark, racing around on a space-time superhighway of its own invention.

It began to write the story of the world with sagas of war, love, and exile. As it spun out stories and allowed the plots to grow organically, the quark became an increasingly talented storyteller. The stories took on subtle dimensions. Its protagonists engaged in moral complexity; its antagonists were charming. The quark reached for inspiration into its own history of loneliness in an empty cosmos: the adolescent with his head on the pillow, the divorcee staring out the coffee shop window, the retiree watching infomercials — these became the prophets of the quark’s text.

(David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives [source])

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Seen Everything? Look Again.

[An “impossible triangle” sculpture in East Perth, Australia. For more information,
see the note at the bottom of this post.]

From whiskey river:


if you believe nothing is always what’s left
after a while, as I did,
If you believe you have this collection
of ungiven gifts, as I do (right here
behind the silence and the averted eyes)
If you believe an afternoon can collapse
into strange privacies  —
how in your backyard, for example,
the shyness of flowers can be suddenly
overwhelming, and in the distance
the clear goddamn of thunder
personal, like a voice,
If you believe there’s no correct response
to death, as I do; that even in grief
(where I’ve sat making plans)
there are small corners of joy
If your body sometimes is a light switch
in a house of insomniacs
If you can feel yourself straining
to be yourself every waking minute
If, as I am, you are almost smiling…

(Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems, 1974-1994 [source])


Nothing can be given or taken away; nothing has been added or subtracted; nothing increased or diminished. We stand on the same shore before the same mighty ocean. The ocean of love. There it is — in perpetuum. As much in a broken blossom, the sound of a waterfall, the swoop of a carrion bird as in the thunderous artillery of the prophet. We move with eyes shut and ears stopped; we smash walls where doors are waiting to open to the touch; we grope for ladders, forgetting that we have wings; we pray as if God were deaf and blind, as if He were in a space. No wonder the angels in our midst are unrecognizable.

One day it will be pleasant to remember these things.

(Henry Miller, Nexus [source])



Driving the Garden State Parkway to New York, I pointed out two crows to a woman who believed crows always travel in threes. And later just one crow eating the carcass of a squirrel. “The others are nearby,” she said, “hidden in trees.” She was sure. Now and then she’d say “See!” and a clear dark trinity of crows would be standing on the grass. I told her she was wrong to under- or overestimate crows, and wondered out loud if three crows together made any evolutionary sense. I was almost getting serious now. Near Forked River, we saw five. “There’s three,” she said, “and two others with a friend in a tree.” I looked to see if she was smiling. She wasn’t. Or she was. “Men like you,” she said, “need it written down, notarized, and signed.”

(Stephen Dunn [source])

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Un Momento, Por Favor

[Image found at What My World’s Like]

From whiskey river:

Visiting the Graveyard

When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
are familiar

but not a single one
notices me,
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,

which they do
very quietly,
it’s in an unknowable language —
I can catch the tone

but understand not a single word —
and when I open my eyes
there’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.

(Mary Oliver, from Red bird [source])


…Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion.

We have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible. And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word now, we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline calibrations on the watch.

As a result, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because we believe that the present is always instantly vanishing. This is the problem of Goethe’s Faust. He attains his great moment and says to it, “Oh still delay, thou art so fair.” But the moment never stays. It is always disappearing into the past.

Therefore we have the sensation that our lives are constantly flowing away from us. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to waste; time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of clocks, we feel that we have a past, and that we know who we were in the past — nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were — and we believe we also have a future. And that belief is terribly important, because we have a naive hope that the future is somehow going to supply us with everything we’re looking for.

You see, if you live in a present that is so short that it is not really here at all, you will always feel vaguely frustrated.

(Alan Watts [source, in slightly different form])

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It Went Right By You

[Image: “Lodz, PL, 1994.” A photo by Mark Pimlott from his 2008 exhibit, All Things Pass,
at Stroom Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (click for original)]

From whiskey river:

Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the riverbank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red. It’s the first week of October. Season of woolen garments taken out of mothballs; of nocturnal mists and dew and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs; of snapdragons having one last fling; of those frilly ornamental pink-and-purple cabbages that never used to exist, but are all over everywhere now.

(Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin [source])


Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night.

(John O’Donohue, from Anam Cara [source])



Can’t get clear of this dream,
can’t get sober.

Spring breeze chilly
on the flesh: me all alone.

My orphan sail
finds the bank
where reed flowers fall.

All night
the river sounds
the rain falling:

(Yuan Mei, from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas [source])

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Right Looking

[Image of Fay Ray, by William Wegman (1988), found here, as well as elsewhere
on the Web (e.g., Style Me to the Moon)]

From whiskey river:

My Hand

See how the past is not finished
here in the present
it is awake the whole time
never waiting
it is my hand now but not what I held
it is not my hand but what I held
it is what I remember
but it never seems quite the same
no one else remembers it
a house long gone into air
the flutter of tires over a brick road
cool light in a vanished bedroom
the flash of the oriole
between one life and another
the river a child watched

(W. S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius)


And now here’s the thing. It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been, and, moreover, all the while you thought you were going around idle terribly hard work was taking place. Hard, hard work, excavation and digging, mining, moiling through tunnels, heaving, pushing, moving rock, working, working, working, working, panting, hauling, hoisting. And none of this work is seen from the outside. It’s internally done. It happens because you are powerless and unable to get anywhere, to obtain justice or have requital, and therefore in yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself? Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.

(Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March [source])

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Surprised by What You Want

[Video above: “Rio,” by Hey Marseilles. Lyrics at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

I feel as though I stand at the foot of an infinitely high staircase, down which some exuberant spirit is flinging tennis ball after tennis ball, eternally, and the one thing I want in the world is a tennis ball.

(Annie Dillard [source])


Born Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago I was born into the world.
A thousand, ten thousand miles I’ve roamed,
By rivers where the green grass grows thick,
beyond the border where the red sands fly.
I brewed potions in a vain search for life everlasting,
I read books, I sang songs of history,
and today I’ve come home to Cold Mountain
to pillow my head on the stream and wash my ears.

(Han-shan, Cold Mountain [source])

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Think You Know What’s Coming?

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, The Blind Assassin [source])

…and, from the whiskey river archives (the commonplace book):

How Much Happens in a Day

In the course of a day we shall meet one another.

But, in one day, things spring to life —
they sell grapes in the street,
tomatoes change their skin,
the young girl you wanted
never came back to the office.

They changed the postman suddenly.
The letters now are not the same.
A few golden leaves and it’s different;
this tree is now well off.

Who would have said that the earth
with its ancient skin would change so much?
It has more volcanoes than yesterday,
the sky has brand-new clouds,
the rivers are flowing differently.
Besides, so much has come into being!
I have inaugurated hundreds
of highways and buildings,
delicate, clean bridges
like ships or violins.

And so, when I greet you
and kiss your flowering mouth,
our kisses are other kisses,
our mouths are other mouths.

Joy, my love, joy in all things,
in what falls and what flourishes.

Joy in today and yesterday,
the day before and tomorrow.

Joy in bread and stone,
joy in fire and rain.

In what changes, is born, grows,
consumes itself, and becomes a kiss again.

Joy in the air we have,
and in what we have of earth.

When our life dries up,
only the roots remain to us,
and the wind is cold like hate.

Then let us change our skin,
our nails, our blood, our gazing;
and you kiss me and I go out
to sell light on the roads.

Joy in the night and the day,
and the four stations of the soul.

(Pablo Neruda; translation by Alastair Reid [source])

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Best Not to Wait

[Image above, “Don’t Wait for Tomorrow” (original oil on board, 92cm x 122cm),
by Nadeem Chughtai]

From whiskey river:

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

(Joan Didion; quoted widely, allegedly from a 1975 commencement address)


The time allotted to you is so short that if you lose one second you have already lost your whole life, for it is no longer, it is always just as long as the time you lose. So if you have started out on a walk, continue it whatever happens; you can only gain, you run no risk, in the end you may fall over a precipice perhaps, but had you turned back after the first steps and run downstairs you would have fallen at once – and not perhaps, but for certain. So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors, and if you find nothing behind these doors there are more floors, and if you find nothing up there, don’t worry, just leap up another flight of stairs. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.

(Franz Kafka, quoted at Memory Green from a work called The Advocates)

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[Image: “Little Red Riding Hood,” copyright Amanda Gray; all rights reserved. See original at her blog, what now]

From whiskey river:

Cutting Loose

for James Dickey

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path — but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

(William Stafford [source])


The Next Time

Perfection is out of the question for people like us,
so why plug away at the same old self when the landscape

has opened its arms and given us marvelous shrines
to flock towards? The great motels to the west are waiting,

in somebody’s yard a pristine dog is hoping that we’ll drive by,
and on the rubber surface of a lake people bobbing up
and down

will wave. The highway comes right to the door, so let’s
take off before the world out there burns up. Life should
be more

than the body’s weight working itself from room to room.
A turn through the forest will do us good, so will a spin

among the farms. Just think of the chickens strutting,
the cows swinging their udders, and flicking their tails at flies.

And one can imagine prisms of summer light breaking against
the silent, haze-filled sleep of the farmer and his wife.

(Mark Strand [source])

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