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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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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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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No Alternative (Unless Imaginary)

Image: 'I came to the festival for love,' by Flickr user 'id-iom'

[Image: “I came to the festival for love,” by user id-iom on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). This is a photo of a work of street art, one of a so-called “mixtape project”: the artist (who is the photographer) has created various images on rectangles of slate — to the back of each of which s/he has mounted a CD of a mixtape of one sort or another. When finished, the artworks are (were?) simply placed out in public settings, where they may be freely collected by any passerby who wants them. See the complete album here. For a little more information, see the project’s Facebook page, which (I think!) is publicly accessible.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Rapids

Fall’s leaves are redder than
spring’s flowers, have no pollen,
and also sometimes fly, as the wind
schools them out or down in shoals
or droves: though I
have not been here long, I can
look up at the sky at night and tell
how things are likely to go for
the next hundred million years:
the universe will probably not find
a way to vanish nor I
in all that time reappear.

(A. R. Ammons [source])

and:

…unfortunately, it’s true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory and in the mechanism something will be lost and you will never be able to reverse it, you will never again have the original moment back in its uncategorized, preprocessed state. It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.

(Charles Yu [source])

and:

On the Outskirts of Work

In the middle of work
we start longing fiercely for wild greenery,
for the Wilderness itself, penetrated only
by the thin civilization of the telephone wires.

*

The moon of leisure circles the planet Work
with its mass and weight.—That’s how they want it.
When we are on the way home the ground pricks up its ears.
The underground listens to us via the grassblades.

*

Even in this working day there is a private calm.
As in a smoky inland area where a canal flows:
THE BOAT appears unexpectedly in the traffic
or glides out behind the factory, a white vagabond.

*

One Sunday I walk past an unpainted new building
that stands in front of a grey wet surface.
It is half finished. The wood has the same light color
as the skin on someone bathing.

*

Outside the lamps the September night is totally dark.
When the eyes adjust, there is faint light
over the ground where large snails glide out
and the mushrooms are as numerous as the stars.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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The Big Moments

Image: 'Disappearing Act,' by Lulu Lovering on Flickr

[Image: “Disappearing Act,” by Lulu Lovering on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) Apparently this is a self-portrait; the photographer says, “This morning instead of a thunderstorm, it was a very billowy fog that was brushing up against the windows. Even though it was just beginning to be light, I tumbled out of bed and ran around the house trying to find my snuggly parka and tripod and remote. Then I made a quick dash out the back and tried to play it casual for the passing cars as I ran along the road a little ways to the big field where the fog was sitting in clouds on the ground.”]

From whiskey river:

Last Day on Earth

If it’s the title of a movie you expect
everything to become important – a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.

But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday — the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,

on the path by the river, you don’t notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner,

swirling the wine in your glass.
You don’t notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in,

because you’re explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping! — she seemed

her old self again, sniffing the air and alert,
the way dogs are to whatever we can’t see.
And I was happy, you hear yourself saying,

because it felt as if I’d been allowed
to choose my last day on earth,
and this was the one I chose.

(Lawrence Raab [source])

and:

I choose to believe that there is nothing more sacred or profound than this day. I choose to believe that there may be a thousand big moments embedded in this day, waiting to be discovered like tiny shards of gold. The big moments are the daily, tiny moments of courage and forgiveness and hope that we grab onto and extend to one another. That’s the drama of life, swirling all around us, and generally I don’t see it, because I’m too busy waiting to become whatever it is I think I’m about to become. The big moments are in every hour, every conversation, every meal, every meeting.

(Shauna Niequist [source])

and:

Waiting for God

This morning I breathed in. It had rained
early and the sycamore leaves tapped
a few drops that remained, while waving
the air’s memory back and forth
over the lawn and into our open
window. Then I breathed out.

This deliberate day eased
past the calendar and waited. Patiently
the sun instructed the shadows how to move;
it held them, guided their gradual defining.
In the great quiet I carried my life on,
in again, out again.

(William Stafford [source])

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Juddering Through, to the Quiet

Image: 'Planet-Forming Disk Around a Baby Star,' by NASA Blueshift on Flickr

[Image: “Planet-Forming Disk Around a Baby Star,” from NASA Blueshift on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is an artist’s concept, depicting (says the Flickr description) “a young star surrounded by a dusty protoplanetary disk. This disk contains the raw material that can form planets as the star system matures.” For more information, see the note below.]

From whiskey river:

My friend Suzie told me while I was driving her home from that bar about the real meaning of the blindfolded figure of Justice holding the scales. Suzie was drawing her own tarot cards and rethinking each card as she went. Justice, a book on classical lore asserted, stood at the gates of Hades deciding who would go in, and to go in was to be chosen for refinement through suffering, adventure, transformation, a punishing route to the reward that is the transformed self. It made going to hell seem different. And it suggested that justice is a far more complicated  and incalculable thing than we often imagine, that if everything is to come out even in the end, then the end is farther away than anticipated and far harder to estimate. It suggests too that to reside in comfort can be to have fallen by the wayside. Go to hell, but keep moving once you get there, come out the other side. Finally she drew a group around a campfire as her picture of justice, saying that justice is helping each other on the journey.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

…and:

Anger, [Evagrius] wrote, is given to us by God to help us confront true evil. We err when we use it casually, against other people, to gratify our own desires for power or control.

(Kathleen Norris [source])

…and:

August

Summer sings its long song, and all the notes are green.
But there’s a click, somewhere in the middle
of the month, as we reach the turning point, the apex,
a Ferris wheel, cars tipping and tilting over the top,
and we see September up ahead, school and schedules
returning. And there’s the first night you step outside
and hear the katydids arguing, six more weeks
to frost, and you know you can make it through to fall.
Dark now at eight, nights finally cooling off for sleep,
no more twisting in damp sheets, hearing mosquitoes’
thirsty whines. Lakes of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
mirror the sky’s high cirrus. Evenings grow chilly,
time for old sweaters and sweatpants, lying in the hammock
squinting to read in the quick-coming dusk.
A few fireflies punctuate the night’s black text,
and the moonlight is so thick, you could swim in it
until you reach the other side.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

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An Everyday to Make God Belly Laugh

Image: 'Beer Beer Beer - everyday Beer,' by user Marco Verch on Flickr

[Image: “Beer Beer Beer – everyday Beer,” by user Marco Verch on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The original of this photo, as well as his other work, can be found at his own Web site.]

From whiskey river (in one of those weeks when I could just link there and say, Read everything):

I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.

(Shauna Niequist [source])

and (italicized portion):

Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears, and nostrils—all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness. This landscape of shadowed voices, these feathered bodies and antlers and tumbling streams—these breathing shapes are our family, the beings with whom we are engaged, with whom we struggle and suffer and celebrate. For the largest part of our species’ existence, humans have negotiated relationships with every aspect of the sensuous surroundings, exchanging possibilities with every flapping form, with each textured surface and shivering entity that we happened to focus on. All could speak, articulating in gesture and whistle and sigh a shifting web of meanings that we felt on our skin or inhaled through our nostrils or focused with our listening ears, and to which we replied—whether with sounds, or through movements or minute shifts of mood. The color of sky, the rush of waves—every aspect of the earthly sensuous could draw us into a relationship fed with curiosity and spiced with danger.

(David Abram [source])

and:

The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, even God. The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy.

The dear, stupid body is as easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious, clamoring mind will hush if you give it an egg.

Further: While the mind reels in deep space, while the mind grieves or fears or exults, the workaday senses, in ignorance or idiocy, like so many computer terminals printing our market prices while the world blows up, still transcribe their little data and transmit them to the warehouse in the skull. Later, under the tranquilizing influence of fried eggs, the mind can sort through all of these data.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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Forms, Aligning

Image: 'Symmetries: passage2011 - logfiles / GÆG: Thomas Huber & Wolfgang Aichner'

[Image: from the “passage2011” project of artists Thomas Huber and Wolfgang Aichner, undertaken for the Venice Biennale in 2011. (Found on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The two artists built a small wooden boat, “launched” it at Furtschaglboden in the Zillertal Alps — thence dragging it over the Alps to Venice, where they would make their way to the Canale Grande to launch the boat on the water there. The Flickr page’s description says: “After more than three weeks of tireless exertion, the artists reached Lago di Neves in South Tyrol, Italy. From there, they continued their journey via Bozen to Venice. A transport ship conveyed the red boat to the exhibition venue, the Luterana in the Scuola dell’ St. Angelo Custode. Following a christening ceremony, it was launched and proceeded to sink within a few minutes without ever reaching the Canal Grande.” The project’s home page is here; you can read more about it at the English-language Der Spiegel site.]

From whiskey river:

What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and:

Dear Friend
(excerpt)

Y.

I become each day more reckless,
too impatient for summer, the unbearable heat,
the calm that comes with it. There are no hills here,
not one, and I’m bored with the stillness

of the yellow field outside my window. And you,
who cannot keep still, who can never
look back, where will you go next?
How will I find you?

Can you feel the world pull
apart, the seams loosen?
What, tell me, will keep it whole,

if not you? if not me?
Send a postcard, picture, tell me
how you’ve been.

(Blas Falconer [source])

and (last four lines):

I once had a friend. He had been teaching a long time when I was just starting. He liked telling his students he’d seen them before. In another life, at another school, the same hairline, the same kid brother back home in eighth grade. In class, he gave them obituaries to read. And though we’re no longer close, here is consolation: I still believe in what he was up to: seeing if he could make them dizzy. Suggesting they write their way into or out of the disquieting facts he offered up. Offering the chance to find themselves breathless, to consider themselves a point on a circle falling and rising, falling/drawn up, as the wheel moved, moves, is moving relentlessly on. He wanted them to feel conveyor beneath their feet, when all along they’d assumed they were walking. To consider they might, somehow, for another, be a mark and a measure of vastness. A site.

As he was for me.

What do you see? What aligns? he’s still asking…

Of course, I could say I won’t write about my old friend. And, to be honest, I’d rather not, since I still feel regret and sadness about that loss. But things about him assert here as subject. The obituaries (you’ll see). The dizziness. His belief in the uneasy matter of chaos. It’s all here, important. All-of-a-piece. These lightest of strands, moments, memories unbury. Forms align in each others’ presence.

It’s the noticing that cracks us open, lets something in.
Shows we’re in use.
Uses us.
Right now. Right this minute.

(Lia Purpura [source])

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Senses of Self

Image: 'The Tragedy of 'Dona Ajada' - I - The Headdress,' by José de Almada Negreiros

[Image: “The Tragedy of ‘Dona Ajada’ – I – The Headdress,” by José de Almada Negreiros. This is the first of six lantern slides produced by Almada for a 1929 collaborative multi-media theater piece, with music by Salvador Bacarisse and poems by Manuel Abril. This work was performed only once, on November 29 of that year; according to a recent monograph accompanying an exhibit of Almada’s work at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, Dona Ajada was a “free adaptation of Lope de Vega’s poem La Gatomaquia (1634), the satire of a classic epic whose principal characters were cats… it seems that Abril and Almada had replaced [the feline female protagonist] for a witch, Dona Ajada, while slightly altering the 17th century plot.” All six slides can be viewed, needless to say, at Flickr as well as other locations around the Web.]

From whiskey river:

We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others.
An interpreted world is not a home.
Part of the terror is to take back our own listening.
To use our own voice.
To see our own light.

(Hildegard of Bingen [source])

and:

…if we watch ourselves we are many people. All day long our field of consciousness is entered by autonomous complexes. If you can recognize them as such, you can steer them, either to keep them out of your system, or by going along with it and knowingly putting it aside again. But if you are possessed, so to speak, it means the complexes enter you involuntary and you act them out involuntary.

(Marie-Louise von Franz [source: see below])

and:

I’ve Been Known

to spread it on thick to shoot off my mouth to get it off my chest
to tell him where
to get off
to stay put to face the music to cut a shine to go under to sell
myself short to play
myself down
to paint the town to fork over to shell out to shoot up to pull a
fast one to go haywire
to take a shine to
to be stuck on to glam it up to vamp it up to get her one better to
eat a little higher
on the hog
to win out to get away with to go to the spot to make a stake to
make a stand to
stand for something to stand up for
to snow under to slip up to go for it to take a stab at it to try out
to go places to play
up to get back at
to size up to stand off to slop over to be solid with to lose my
shirt to get myself off
to get myself off the hook

(Denise Duhamel [source])

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