When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

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The Noticing

Image: #everydaybandw (unpublished), by JES

[Image: one of my #everydaybandw series — as the tag suggests, photos of this-and-that encountered in the course of everyday life, rendered in black-and-white; most of these are on Instagram, but I thought this one required cropping (which I’ve tried to avoid doing there).]

From whiskey river:

Week after week, year after year, after art class I walked the vast museum, and lost myself in the arts, or the sciences. Scientists, it seemed to me as I read the labels on display cases (bivalves, univalves; ungulates, lagomorphs), were collectors and sorters, as I had been. They noticed the things that engaged the curious mind: the way the world develops and divides, colony and polyp, population and tissue, ridge and crystal. Artists, for their part, noticed the things that engaged the mind’s private and idiosyncratic interior, that area where the life of senses mingles with the life of the spirit: the shattering of light into color, and the way it shades off round a bend. The humble attention painters gave to the shadow of a stalk or the reflected sheen under a chin, or the lapping layers of strong stokes, included and extended the scientists’ vision of each least thing as unendingly interesting. But artists laid down the vision in the form of beauty bare — Man Walking — radiant and fierce, inexplicable without the math.

It all got noticed: the horse’s shoulders pumping; the sunlight warping the air over a hot field; the way the leaves turn color, brightly, cell by cell; and even the splitting, half-resigned feeling you have when you notice you are walking on the earth for a while now — set down for a spell — in this particular time for no particular reason, here.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and (italicized portion):

It means for us simply that we must be careful with our lives, for Christ’s sake, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously. Everybody knows that. We need no one to tell it to us. Yet in another way perhaps we do always need to be told, because there is always the temptation to believe that we have all the time in the world, whereas the truth is we do not. We have only one life, and the choice of how we are going to live it must be our own choice, not one that we let the world make for us.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

and:

Isn’t it wonderful to be alive?

You know, you can forget all about it.

Then suddenly you remember, and think of all the things you can do. Here I am. I can walk around. I can talk. I can see things and remember things.

I am alive.

How wonderful.

(Sophia Loren [source: various, none canonical])

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Right Haunted

Image: photo of Ron Mueck's sculpture, 'Boy' (photo by Tamaki Sono on Flickr.com)

[Image: photograph of Ron Mueck’s sculpture, “Boy”; photo by Tamaki Sono, found on Flickr (and used here under a Creative Commons license — thanks!). Mueck specializes in sculpting people in ultra-realistic detail, but scaled up (as here) or down for a slightly jarring effect. See more examples here, and elsewhere around the Web.]

From whiskey river (all but the last sentence):

Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness… who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false.

(Fernando Pessoa [source])

and (italicized portion):

Surely we cannot take an open question like the supernatural and shut it with a bang, turning the key of the madhouse on all the mystics of history… You cannot take the region of the unknown and calmly say that, though you know nothing about it, you know all the gates are locked. You cannot say, “This island is not discovered yet; but I am sure that it has a wall of cliffs all round it and no harbour”… We do not know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

…the life you lead is a midnight thing, always a hair’s breadth from the witching hour; it is volatile, it is threadbare; it is carefree in the true sense of that term; it is light, losable like a key or a hair clip. And it is lethargy: why not sit all morning, all day, all year, under the same cypress tree drawing the figure eight in the dust? More than that, it is disaster, it is chaos: why not overthrow a government on a whim, why not blind the man you hate, why not go mad, go gibbering through the town like a loon, waving your hands, tearing your hair? There’s nothing to stop you — or rather anything could stop you, any hour, any minute.

(Zadie Smith [source])

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Windsightings

Lantern slide: Japanese god of wind, Fujin

[Image: Lantern slide (undated) in the digital collection of Oregon State University. This hand-tinted photograph depicts the Japanese god of wind, Fujin; the photo’s subject is a statue of the god, found in the Iyemitsu Temple, Nikko, Japan. (Found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) That thing slung across his shoulders is not a giant sausage but a bag of wind. For another photograph, see this page of illustrations in a travel guide by one Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke (!), published in 1918.]

From whiskey river:

Utopia

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

(Wislawa Szymborska [source])

and:

Epithalamion

The elm weaves the field’s late light, this hill
hanging from the tree’s roots like the moon
From its shadow and the whole
world beneath suspended.

Roots knead the earth’s thick sorrow.
Still, leaves from this.
From this unshackling, birdsong.

I am a blade of corn where you kneel,
wind and quaking stalk.
The elm’s body a vase of poured sky.

The tree will die.
Someday, the tree will die.

For now, this axis—
what we choose to compass by.

(Hannah Fries [source])

and:

And I would be the wind, whispering through the tangled woods, running airy fingers over the island’s face, tingling in the chill of concealed places, sighing secrets in the dawn. And I would be the light, flinging over the island, covering it with flash and shadow, shining on rocks and pools, softening to a touch in the glow of dusk. If I were the rain and wind and light, I would encircle the island like the sky surrounding earth, flood through it like a heart driven pulse, shine from inside it like a star in flames, burn away to blackness in the closed eyes of its night.

(Richard Nelson [source (not canonical)])

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The Necessity of Tough Questions

Image: 'i drag my feet like anyone else,' by andrea joseph on Flickr

[Image: “i drag my feet like anyone else,” by andrea joseph. (Found of course on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer asks, “why is a broken bench so moving?” (the operative word is “touching” in the image’s text); she asked the question on her blog, too, and got some good answers.]

From whiskey river:

Phone Survey

We’re doing a phone survey, asking
average people like yourself, attractive, cynical, smart, etc.,
people who cook with garlic, who, if married,
it’s not the first time. People who have had
two or more jobs in the last three years.
We want to know what your preferred response is
when you hear,
if in fact you do hear,
the voices. Shall I clarify?
Voices that converse
on the great unhappiness and failure
that is yours. How often
would you swear you’re not drunk, no,
but the trees are swaying. We’re calling to ask
if you ever get confused and mistake
the swaying of trees for the lapping of water,
until you can’t get your bearing. Is that when
the voices advise you, smooth
as a nail going in? Are there certain words that,
can I say, sneak in from behind, know all
the back entrances? Would you agree
the secret of their strength
is that they will not let you give in
to your hunger? How often
all you’ve said and all you’ve done, torn
like meat from a bone. Is that when you go out, walk
past lighted windows? Go to a movie? Have a coke?
Or do you hang around, drift off
till the voices wake you with a jolt or slap: “Payback time.”
Like a street person in front of a diner, begging for change,
who will not let you go in and get your lousy cup of coffee
though the sign on the diner flashes: OPEN ALL NIGHT.
Are the voices familiar with, say,
streets you walked as a kid,
torn signs, dead trees?
We’re asking if the voices, now or in the past,
have ever told you that you have to go back
to the path by the precipice. Because that is your path.
Would you mind answering? Or am I interrupting something?
Shall I call back later? What time would be best?

(Carole Glasser Langille [source])

 

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Quiet on the Set

Image: 'Cuando las calles á solas (When the streets are alone,' by Oiluj Samall Zeid

[Image: “Cuando las calles á solas (When the streets are alone),” by Oiluj Samall Zeid. (Found it on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

Nobody speaks to me. People fall in love with me, and annoy me and distress me and flatter me and excite me and — and all that sort of thing. But no one speaks to me. I sometimes think that no one can.

(Edna St. Vincent Millay [source])

and:

Mum Is The Word

The League of Quiet Persons meets
monthly. Its quarters are a cavernous
warehouse away from traffic. Its
business is not to discuss business.
Minutes are read silently and tacitly approved.
Members listen to rain argue with corrugated
iron, a furnace with itself. Glances
are learnéd. It is not so much refuge
from noise the members seek in such company
as implicit permission not to speak,
not to answer or to answer for,
not to pose, chat, persuade, or expound.

Podium and gavel have been banned,
indeed are viewed as weaponry.
A microphone? The horror.
Several Quiet Persons interviewed
had no comment. A recorded voice
at the main office murmured only, “You
have reached the League of Quiet
Persons. After the tone, listen.”

(Hans Ostrom [source])

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Swimming in Metaphor

Image: 'THE-ROOM-OF-EXTREMELY-USEFUL-THINGS,' by Sam Leighton on Flickr.com

[Image: “THE-ROOM-OF-EXTREMELY-USEFUL-THINGS,” by Sam Leighton on Flickr.com; used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). This scarcely requires comment — er, right?]

From whiskey river:

When we walk, holding stories in us, do they touch the ground through our footprints? What is this power of metaphor, by which we liken a thing we see to a thing we imagine or have seen before — the granite crag to an old crystalline heart — changing its form, allowing animation to suffuse the world via inference? Metaphor, perhaps, is the tame, the civilized, version of shamanic shapeshifting, word-magic, the recognition of stories as toothed messengers from the wilds. What if we turned the old nursery rhymes and fairytales we all know into feral creatures once again, set them loose in new lands to root through the acorn fall of oak trees? What else is there to do, if we want to keep any of the wildness of the world, and of ourselves?

(Sylvia Linsteadt [source])

and:

What the Wind Says
For David Swanger

The wind says, “I am the voice beside you,
a leaf against the curb, a name you whisper
for the way it haunts you. You can hear
whatever the mind wants. I am still
holding a breath, the ghost beneath a sheet,
some lost moment a hinge finds. Open

the gate and walk away: you wish to turn
the porch light off and never look back
to the row of identical houses, your years
mortgaged with the familiar acts
of habits. Try to forget each hour spent
lying awake trying to forget, for regret
remembers regret, which is why

I never sweep the same place twice.
Often this voice is mistaken
for someone else. I remind others
of who they are, or wish to be. I know desires
better than any wildfire knows me.
So what do you wait for? A whim, a promise,
some dream? Think how dust settles
upon the shelf, how a tornado always loses
its funnel, how tomorrow becomes another day.
Think how capricious I am, for what
I bring to you, for what I take away.”

(Greg Sellers [source])

and:

In a world where we are left to renegotiate our traumas again and again, we have to find empathetic, patient witnesses. My grandmother used to say: Some people in your life need to be mirrors and show you who you are from time to time. Some people in your life need to be blankets and embrace everything you are from time to time. Keep your mirrors clean and bright. Keep your blankets soft and close.

(Scherezade Siobhan [source])

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For Deep Roots: International Americana

'Deep Roots Magazine' logo (2017)I mentioned some months ago that I’d be writing for Deep Roots Magazine, and so I have been. Particularly, as I also mentioned a little while later, I’d been focusing on something called “international Americana” — that is to say:

…music performed generally using acoustic instruments, something like country, something like folk, sometimes incorporating elements of blues and/or bluegrass, often for small, intimate audiences rather than large-scale ones… modest music, and it’s music which springs not from glitzy high-flown impulses, but from simple ones. But — maybe surprisingly — it’s not always in English.

The article in question went up at the Deep Roots site a few days ago. Below, a brief summary:

  • A discussion about what the term “Americana” in means, as a musical genre. (Maybe predictably, I sort of back into that discussion: I begin by considering a band called “Leningrad Cowboys,” an example not of musicians overseas employing Americana-musical tropes, but of importing musicians from overseas into American culture… in America.)
  • Asking — and perhaps answering — some questions about why musicians overseas might even be interested in a native version of Americana music in the first place. The approach here is to consider recording-industry statistics for Australasia as of a few years ago — just before the establishment of the Americana Music Association-Australia.
  • A look at a wonderful resource for anyone thinking of investigating this music themselves: The International Americana Music Show (TIAMS), a podcast/public-radio show produced by a native Scot now living in the US.
  • …and finally, a survey of opinions from international artists who’ve been dubbed (at one time or another, rightly or wrongly, by choice or otherwise) as “Americana” in style. These were the artists I “spoke” with, via email, and feature in the article (in the no-particular-order in which they’re first mentioned in the article):

You can find that article here, at the Deep Roots site. Lots of music over there!

In addition to what’s in the Deep Roots piece, I’ll also be posting here, from time to time, even more information about these talented performers. They were so generous with their time in answering my questions, and yet there were so many of them that I couldn’t give each the attention they deserved!

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Practical Magic

Image: 'A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus),' by Hans Hoffmann

[Image: “A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus),” by Hans Hoffmann (German, 16th century). Painting in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; for more about the painting, see the museum’s description of it. As for its relevance here, well, read on.]

From whiskey river:

Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; or else someone’s gaze, answer, gesture is enough; it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for his pleasure to become the pleasure of others: at that moment, all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly.

(Italo Calvino [source])

and:

Off A Side Road Near Staunton

Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall
meadow, high above the harvest, perfect
to the tree line, then spirit clouds and intermittent
sunlit smoky rain riding the tops of the mountains,
though you could walk until it’s dark and not reach those rains—
you could walk the rest of the day into the picture
and not know why, at any given moment, you’re there.

(Stanley Plumly [source])

and:

Fairy-Tale Logic

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross the sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible when someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve—
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

(A. E. Stallings [source])

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I Remember, Therefore I Am

Image: 'Self-Portrait,' by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr

[Image: “Self-Portrait,” by Alyssa L. Miller; found it on Flickr, and use it here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!) The glib “if someone looks to their right, they’re probably lying” trick, it turns out, is not as true as was once thought. Finer-tuned studies, especially mapping what the brain is doing when one’s eyes move in a given direction; looking up and to the left, as the photographer apparently was for this photo, is commonly associated with remembering visual images. Now, this photo was taken in 2009: if I contacted the photographer and asked her about the circumstances, odds are she wouldn’t remember if, back then, she was remembering any image in particular — but in the present, while thinking about which photo I was referring to, then, then she might look up and to the left.]

From whiskey river:

Memory, and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no banks, and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us, but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit, abandon the head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a sanctuary of infinite patience.

Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers…

We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these remain within their world, not ours. The universe covers the whole, a warm blanket.

But this memory is the glue that keeps the universe as one: although immaterial, it makes being possible, it is being. If an idea didn’t remember to think, it wouldn’t be. If a chair wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be tomorrow. If I didn’t remember that I am, I won’t be. We can also say that the universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being. Because it remembers itself, it exists. Because it exists, it remembers.

(Etel Adnan[no canonical source online, but quoted in the reliable brain pickings])

and (italicized stanza):

Passing Along

People who walk by carry something so light
that no one can tell what it is. I know that burden,
lift it carefully from them and take it away
as they go on walking toward the sky.

Waiting here still I cherish whatever they find—
miles of lupine ghosting the hills,
an accurate bird whetting its call
beyond the hedgerows where they disappear.

“All I ask,” my mother said, “no matter the years
and the life we have, is that when you leave
you turn and wave.” That was long ago.
I like to remember—I turn, I wave.

(William Stafford [again, no canonical source online; quoted in Artful Dodge])

and:

Morning in a New Land

In trees still dripping night some nameless birds
Woke, shook out their arrowy wings, and sang,
Slowly, like finches sifting through a dream.
The pink sun fell, like glass, into the fields.
Two chestnuts, and a dapple gray,
Their shoulders wet with light, their dark hair streaming,
Climbed the hill. The last mist fell away,

And under the trees, beyond time’s brittle drift,
I stood like Adam in his lonely garden
On that first morning, shaken out of sleep,
Rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves,
Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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