Intersections Close By, Milestones Passed

[Image: the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2 and the New York City skyline at night (January, 2011)]

From whiskey river:

Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or a bicycle.

(Alain de Botton [source])



A man is walking in a field
and everywhere at his feet
in the short grass of April
the small purple violets
are in bloom. As the man walks
the ground drops away,
the sunlight of day becomes
a sort of darkness in which
the lights of the flowers rise
up around him like
fireflies or stars in a sort
of sky through which he walks.

(Wendell Berry [source])

Not from whiskey river:

[Over a cup of coffee]

Over a cup of coffee or sitting on a park bench or
walking the dog, he would recall some incident
from his youth — nothing significant — climbing a tree
in his backyard, waiting in left field for a batter’s
swing, sitting in a parked car with a girl whose face
he no longer remembered, his hand on her breast
and his body electric; memories to look at with
curiosity, the harmless behavior of a stranger, with
nothing to regret or elicit particular joy. And
although he had no sense of being on a journey,
such memories made him realize how far he had
traveled, which, in turn, made him ask how he
would look back on the person he was now, this
person who seemed so substantial. These images, it
was like looking at a book of old photographs,
recognizing a forehead, the narrow chin, and
perhaps recalling the story of an older second
cousin, how he had left long ago to try his luck in
Argentina or Australia. And he saw that he was
becoming like such a person, that the day might
arrive when he would look back on his present self
as on a distant relative who had drifted off into
uncharted lands.

(Stephen Dobyns [source])


On the Metro

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book — Cioran, The Temptation to Exist — and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin — (how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.
I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory — a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

(C.K. Williams [source])


Reverie in Open Air

I acknowledge my status as a stranger:
Inappropriate clothes, odd habits
Out of sync with wasp and wren.
I admit I don’t know how
To sit still or move without purpose.
I prefer books to moonlight, statuary to trees.

But this lawn has been leveled for looking,
So I kick off my sandals and walk its cool green.
Who claims we’re mere muscle and fluids?
My feet are the primitives here.
As for the rest — ah, the air now
Is a tonic of absence, bearing nothing
But news of a breeze.

(Rita Dove [source])


Consider the coral reef… In the coral reef, the individual little coral animal doesn’t even know the coral animals next to him. They keep building reefs, which are occupied by millions of individuals who have no knowledge of one another. It’s like the Queen Elizabeth going down the harbor when the lights are on at night, and it happens that a child is born on board about that moment, and in the next moment an old man dies on board. You don’t see that in those lights, because the Queen Elizabeth is like a floating coral reef where new life is coming in and old life is going out. In New York City, as you get up on high and see all the lights of the skyline, there are houses where people are dying and there are houses where people are being born. It’s a great coral reef too.

There’s also a sort of continuity in the way each of our cells is dying and new ones are coming in. We are, in effect, walking coral reefs; the latest information discloses that 98 percent of the atoms of which we consist change annually. So we’re simply a kind of form, as the Queen Elizabeth is a form, with life going on inside. The atoms get changed, the people on board change, yet there is a sum-total form that goes on. You and I are walking, overlapping life-cell creations and life-cell deaths, atoms coming in and going out.

(Buckminster Fuller [source])

Note: Running After My Hat turns four today.* Many thanks to everyone who’s stopped by, for any reason at all (including flat-out mistakes): just your silent footprints in the site statistics reassure me. This must be how it feels to build and tend a city park, with trails, trees, and waterways, and in between times just sorta sit back and watch strangers make use of it all (often oblivious to the park itself, just here to feed the birds, read, listen to their iPods, daydream, have a picnic, make out behind the trees…).

But those of you who’ve not only stopped by but engaged the ranger in conversation, ah: you, you have his deep and everlasting gratitude. For a writer, even an aspiring one, no pleasure remotely approaches that of a reader who takes the writer’s thoughts and words and transforms them into the reader’s own. Thank you so much!

* Which explains why I feel no guilt about indulging myself with a loooong whiskey river Friday post, the selections chosen almost as much for my personal taste as because they fit the “theme.” :)

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  1. A decidedly happy Anniversary RAMH!
    Love the Fuller piece. WAY too corny to say this, but if people WOULD only think of themselves as part of the greater organism – much trouble and travail would go by the wayside. You can’t know which cells are going to be born or die at any given moment, but you shouldn’t be actively working toward the death side, I’d say.
    And if you want to see real gardening at work – look up Frederick Law Olmsted and his handiwork. Now there’s GARDENING!

  2. Alain de Botton: I cannot get enough of him. It all started with that book, then a TED talk on it, then a dive into the deepest end I could find. I am so charmed to find my very own living philosopher. When I am asked by strangers what I do (or did), I’m prone to answer that I am a failed philosopher. I am having the best time with him!

    Wendell Berry: “How many of your birthdays I have by now been glad of!”

    Dobyns: If there is benefit to being 64 instead of 46, it’s that we don’t have to take that long, lonesome look back at an imagined and forgotten self; we can no longer see that far ahead and it’s unexpectedly comforting. And we don’t forget, but we do marvel at the vitality and energy. We marvel and are dazzled and impressed, at last.

    C.K. Williams: That was nothing else in this world but ambrosial.

    Rita Dove: What a collection of gorgeousness you’ve given us today! A gift at least as good as last year’s.

    Buckminster Fuller: Ah, there’s the Queen Elizabeth reference. He would be very pleased with Antonio Damasio’s research into how the brain maintains its sense of self despite all that busy cellular insentience.

    It is my great luck and privilege to have found RAMH. I thank you every time I visit and every time thereafter–often, daily!–that I think of what I last found here. Now, off to follow those links that are lined up across my tabs like a wish list.

  3. Happy Anniversary, John! It’s funny, I read the last blog of someone’s today, they are closing the window to their world and moving on. It was sad, so I’m glad I stopped in to celebrate your cleverness, your humor, your curiosity and joy in all things. I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t here some days.

  4. I have always completely and utterly related to the first quote, about being on the wrong side of brilliant but for some small psychological flaw. For me, I have always thought of it as a fatal flaw that has wavered during different times of my life, and that it has been gigantic. When I was young I thought it was because I was a girl. Then because I was extremely anxious and neurotic. Then because I’m bipolar. But none of this are sufficient explanations or excuses, for women I know have been brilliant, as have neurotic and bipolar people. It’s luck, I’ve decided. Through no fault of my own. I’m just not lucky.

    As for the second entry: the guy on the violets is clearly tripping.

  5. Oh, de Botton. I feel like my mind has been violated. He just, well, broke into it–ransacked the place. But I’m oddly happy to restore it (perhaps, to a better condition than it was).

    I spent a good portion of yesterday sifting through old photos (sending a few to Sheila’s sister), and found a few that made me laugh out loud. The kids rifled through them last night. Their comments: This is you? Wait, this is you and your crazy friends? Are you holding a cigarette in your hand? (oh boy–I should have hidden that one) This is Dad? Look how young your are! Wow, what happened–you guys had a lot of fun back then, huh? Gulp. I thought we still had fun–only in a different way. Ha. Adds a whole new layer, having teens look back at my life–or some sort of crazy, preserved presentation of it. I, though, I really try not to look back and ponder the what ifs so much (though it does happen, almost spontaneously, occasionally). A bonus of having young teens at the age of 50–less time to look back!

    Fuller: fabulous–love that coral reef. And I feel very lifted by all of this, John. A breezy tonic of a post. :)

    • Ah- I missed your note! Back to say Happy Anniversary Ranger RAMH. Four years and a mighty healthy garden of a park. Always happy to walk its paths and absorb the sights and sounds. It’s beautifully tended. :)

  6. Thanks so much, everyone. A crazy few days since posting this (and, alas, a crazy few days immediately ahead); I’ll be back later today (I hope!) for individual replies. :)

  7. I see someone beat me to the mention of Alain de Botton’s TED Talk.

    Also want to say that there is one line–just one–in all this post that reminded me of a Prince song, and now that song is in my head.

    Happy Anniversary. Glad not to completely miss it. Looking forward to the next one.

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