Choosing the Self You Want to Know

'You Choose (autoretrato),' by Alberto Varela on

[Image: “You Choose (autoretrato),” by Alberto Varela. (Found on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer says only that this self-portrait (Spanish: auto retrato) was inspired by another photographer’s work. That photographer, one Lex Wilson, has a whole Flickr album of “creative self-portraits” which presumably supplied the specific inspiration.]

From whiskey river:

No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.

Well, get used to that feeling. That’s how your whole life will feel some day.

This is all practice.

(Chuck Palahniuk [source])

and (italicized portion):

There’s one problem with all psychological knowledge—nobody can apply it to themselves. People can be incredibly astute about the shortcomings of their friends, spouses, children. But they have no insight into themselves at all. The same people who are coldly clear-eyed about the world around them have nothing but fantasies about themselves. Psychological knowledge doesn’t work if you look in a mirror. This bizarre fact is, as far as I know, unexplained.

Personally, I always thought there was a clue from computer programming, in a procedure called recursion. Recursion means making the program loop back on itself, to use its own information to do things over and over until it gets a result. You use recursion for certain data-sorting algorithms and things like that. But it’s got to be done carefully, or you risk having the machine fall into what is called an infinite regress. It’s the programming equivalent of those funhouse mirrors that reflect mirrors, and mirrors, ever smaller and smaller, stretching away to infinity. The program keeps going, repeating and repeating, but nothing happens. The machine hangs.

I always figured something similar must happen when people turn their psychological insight-apparatus on themselves. The brain hangs. The thought process goes and goes, but it doesn’t get anywhere.

(Michael Crichton [source])


A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is like to be. It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, a poem permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves.

(Mark Strand [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Sakura Park

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter

like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on

and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles

a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,

seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart

some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads

though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: darks clouds don’t fade

but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness

(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.

There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.

And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.

(Rachel Wetzsteon [source])


Short Ode to Screwball Women

On sullen nights like these
when my spirit counts its woes like pearls on a string,
you bring me armfuls of spare pantsuits
and clear-eyed hints about the woman
who might kick up her heels in them, flooding rooms
with cunning, air, an almost gaudy vitality.

Gaudy but sober: when your wayward husband
courted the heiress, you stormed her gates
disguised as a floozy—and asked the butler
to serve you gingerale. It was life
you’d rather be drunk on, roaring life
that told you there is no time for spirits
of dark staircases, only lightning ruses
that not only leave no bruises but give
all parties their wish: rinsed vision and second chances.

Losing a boot heel and giddily claiming
I was born on the side of a hill is easy.
For every such moment there are ten
when my ideal snags midflight, a bag caught in branches.
But a girl can dream, can realize, high
on heroines, that she is mortal
and therefore fearless; that sanity
supplies the ground bass to the wildest singing;
that breezes made visible make the finest winds.

(Rachel Wetzsteon [source])


Of all the joys which are slowly abandoning me, sleep is one of the most precious, though one of the most common, too. A man who sleeps but little and poorly, propped on many a cushion, has ample time to meditate upon this particular delight. I grant that the most perfect repose is almost necessarily a complement to love, that profound rest which is reflected in two bodies. But what interests me here is the specific mystery of sleep partaken of for itself alone, the inevitable plunge risked each night by the naked man, solitary and unarmed, into an ocean where everything changes, the colors, the densities, and even the rhythm of breathing, and where we meet the dead. What reassures us about sleep is that we do come out of it, and come out of it unchanged, since some mysterious ban keeps us from bringing back with us in their true form even the remnants of our dreams. What also reassures us is that sleep heals us of fatigue, but heals us by the most radical of means in arranging that we cease temporarily to exist. There, as elsewhere, the pleasure and the art consist in conscious surrender to that blissful unconsciousness, and in accepting to be slightly less strong, less light, less heavy and less definite than our waking selves.

(Marguerite Yourcenar [source])

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