Grace at a Distance, Grace Close at Hand — But Grace

[Image: “Winter Forest Illustration,” by Jim Basa. (Found it on Pexels — thanks! — and used here in reduced scale; the thing is huge.)]

From whiskey river:

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness. Are you willing to do these things even for a day?

(Henry van Dyke [source])


Laugh and be Merry

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth,
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

(John Masefield [source])

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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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Say Not Falling, But Released

'gotta match?,' by Laszlo Ilyes on Flicker

[Image: “gotta match?,” by Laszlo Ilyes; found on Flickr, and used here via a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

It was one of those sumptuous days when the world is full of autumn muskiness and tangy, crisp perfection: vivid blue sky, deep green fields, leaves in a thousand luminous hues. It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a landscape becomes individual, when each winding back highway and plump hillside is suddenly and infinitely splashed with every sharp shade that nature can bestow — flaming scarlet, lustrous gold, throbbing vermilion, fiery orange.

(Bill Bryson [source])


Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on.

(Marilynne Robinson [source])

and (italicized lines):


And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

(Edward Hirsch [source])

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Finding Home

[Video: “Die gut gemeinten Fesseln,” by Bernhard Riedl, on Vimeo. The title translates as something like “The Well-Meaning Ropes (or Bonds, etc.).”]

From whiskey river:


There’s nothing I can’t find under there.
Voices in the trees, the missing pages
of the sea.

Everything but sleep.

And night is a river bridging
the speaking and the listening banks,

a fortress, undefended and inviolate.

There’s nothing that won’t fit under it:
fountains clogged with mud and leaves,
the houses of my childhood.

And night begins when my mother’s fingers
let go of the thread
they’ve been tying and untying
to touch toward our fraying story’s hem.

Night is the shadow of my father’s hands
setting the clock for resurrection.

Or is it the clock unraveled, the numbers flown?

There’s nothing that hasn’t found home there:
discarded wings, lost shoes, a broken alphabet.

Everything but sleep. And night begins

with the first beheading
of the jasmine, its captive fragrance
rid at last of burial clothes.

(Li-Young Lee [source])


The country seems bigger, for you can see through the bare trees. There are times when the woods is absolutely still and quiet. The house holds warmth. A wet snow comes in the night and covers the ground and clings to the trees, making the whole world white. For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget.

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.

But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you. You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present, and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life in a different world and time. When you remember the past, you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is. It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present, alive with you in the only time you are alive.

(Wendell Berry [source])

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Regarding the Air

Resuspended volcanic ash over Katmai National Park, Alaska

[Image: photo by NASA’s Terra satellite, taken September 29, 2014. (Click to enlarge.)
See the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

Our awareness is overwhelmed by hundreds of different thoughts, feelings and sensations. Some we latch onto because they’re attractive fantasies or scary preoccupations; some we try to shove away because they’re too upsetting or because they distract us from whatever we’re trying to accomplish at the moment.

Instead of focusing on some of them and pushing away others, though, just look at them as feathers flying in the wind. The wind is your awareness, your inborn openness and clarity. Feathers — the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that pass through our awareness — are harmless. Some may be more attractive than others, some less attractive; but essentially they’re just feathers. Look at them as fuzzy, curly things floating through the air.

(Ngawang Tsoknyi Gyatso [source])



Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences — a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

(Edward Hirsch [source])

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An E-Publishing Experiment (2): Short Holiday Reading for Under a Buck

How It Was: Christmas (cover)Moving right along…

So I’ve had a short story for sale for a week so far, as described in this post. (The book itself can be found on; that’s the Amazon US link, although it’s also available at the company’s UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, [etc.] sites.) At 99 cents apiece (less Amazon’s cut), I’ve sold about a dozen copies of that story to date (one was “refunded,” for reasons unknown — probably a double download).

As I mentioned at the time, I haven’t really done anything to promote it, other than to announce its availability on Facebook and Twitter. I did a follow-up on Facebook, a day or two later, and — for what it’s worth — sold more copies via the follow-up than from the original announcement. I made a point of not urging anyone to spread the word, buy copies for friends and family, and so on; I just announced the story’s availability, to see what happened next.

From this small chunk of data, so far at least, I (not very earth-shakingly) conclude:

  • People who see the announcement are more likely to respond to it. Thus, the timing of the announcement is critical: almost no one can read every single posting in his or her Facebook and/or Twitter feeds. Follow-up can greatly announcements improve the odds of likely purchasers even knowing about the sale in the first place.
  • Since Facebook and Twitter (and RAMH itself, for that matter) are self-selected population samples — only people who “know” me in one way or another — presumably all of those dozen sales so far came not via word-of-mouth, but in direct response to the announcement.

I don’t know how to encourage word-of-mouth sales without constantly nudging the people who’ve bought it so far — remember, people I “know” — and risking wearing out my welcome, so to speak. Especially now, at this time of year, people (even generous friends) simply don’t want, let alone need, to be badgered repeatedly to buy something.

So, let’s move on to phase 2, applying some of these lessons (and leaving some of the mysteries unresolved for now).

You can find my next 99-cent offering here, at Amazon’s US site: “How It Was: Christmas.” If you’ve been reading RAMH for a while, you’ve seen this (both the overall series, and this specific volume) referenced before. One of my very first posts here described the series’ genesis, and what to expect from the individual booklets.

Of all four books, this one is most likely to “sell,” I think — especially at this time of year. I’ve done a couple of things to open it up a little further:

  • I’ve enrolled the title in Amazon’s “Kindle Select”KDP Select” program. This will provide me some promotional opportunities downstream. Chief among these: I will be able to RAISE the sale price, with the intention of immediately offering it for sale at a deep discount back to the 99-cents level.
  • The book will also be available for free “library” lending to Amazon Prime customers. I won’t get a direct royalty from these so-called borrowings, but I will get a small bit from some kind of Amazon’s global library promotions.
  • I’ll do more than one follow-up announcement on Facebook, and also make a point of following up a couple of times on Twitter. (As ever, I don’t want to wear out my welcome. If anyone sees me approaching that limit, I hope you’ll let me know!)
  • A bigger risk, maybe: I’m offering the book free of all digital-rights-management constraints. This means that someone who BUYS a copy can simply turn around and give the book file to anyone else. Of everything I’ve written, maybe, this Christmas booklet is “most likely to succeed,” at some point (perhaps years in the future). To the extent that more and more people read (and of course like) it, future sales of both other How It Was books and everything else I might e-publish might get a boost.

Again, let’s just see how things play out. And I’ll report back on this phase, too, at some point.

Thanks as always for reading anything at all which I’ve written… and of course, thanks extra if you’ve paid for it, and/or encouraged someone else to do so. ;)


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Unseen in September

'Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock'

[Image: Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock, by Chris Van Pelt on Flickr]

From whiskey river (excerpted there; this is the whole poem):

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.


The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?


A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket…
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books — words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend — and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

(Jane Kenyon [source])


We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is.

(Alan Watts [quoted various places (e.g. here), apparently from a book called The Way of Liberation])

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Perfect Moments: The Girl Group on the Bus

[Image: The Boy and his classmates, en route from childhood, almost all of them apparently terrified. Click image to enlarge to a less eye-strainingly viewable version, or choose an alternate blowup: left side, full-size (1.0MB); right side, full-size (1.0MB); entire original scanned version (2MB). The Boy sits, flat-headed and a little jug-eared, in the back row, second from left.]

If you’re a blogger: did you ever have that one post which you never thought you’d write? (If you’re not a blogger, just bear with me a moment.) I don’t mean a post too controversial and/or confidential in subject matter. I mean a post about a subject you just didn’t think you could do justice to: it would be too long, or too difficult to write, would take too much out of you. That ever happen to you?

I’ve had this post on my mind for years. Running After My Hat is over four-and-a-half-years old, and I’ve thought about this post that whole time. (The subject, and the incident which the story describes, has been lurking in my head since boyhood, unforgettable and pretty much never far out of reach.) It’s not controversial and it’s not confidential. But boy did I want to write about it. And boy did I want to do right by it…

The photo above was always going to be included with the post. So for a while, I had an excuse for not writing it: I hadn’t scanned the photo. Then I lost the photo for a few years. Then I found it again. I eventually scanned it, a few months ago… And then I dithered.

I’ve been working on the post now for weeks. (Hence, another reason for my recent all-but-invisibility online.) It is, I think, about as done as it will ever get. But at 3,000-plus words (seven pages if printed), it’s way too long to include in a real post — not very nice for anyone who reads RAMH via email or RSS subscription. So I’ve put it all in a separate standalone page of its own. I’ve included the first couple of paragraphs below. If I haven’t scared you away from it by emphasizing its length, I hope you’ll enjoy the entire piece there.

And thanks — not just to readers (that should go without saying), but especially to the post’s never-forgotten subjects.

That last year of elementary school would be forever, in The Boy’s mind, dotted with the footprints of change, of some things started anew and others overturned. Among other upheavals which touched him, he paid attention to a Presidential election for the first time; The Addams FamilyBewitched and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered on TV; the Warren Commission report came out; his friend Lindsay moved away; the Yankees (Lindsay’s favorite team) played their last World Series for a looong time and, shockingly, lost; a country named Vietnam first entered his consciousness; and with the rest of the eighth-grade class, he visited The Museum for the first time ever.

The Museum was one of two large and world-famous museums of science in the nearest city. It specialized in what was called “natural history,” a subject of which The Boy had made a hobby since, well, since he was The Little Boy: rocks and minerals, plant life, dinosaurs, birds and animals… For this reason alone, The Boy looked forward to this field trip. He couldn’t imagine how the excursion could affect him more deeply.

As would become his habit in life, however, The Boy failed to anticipate the large inner events to be found in real-world ones, no matter how small or how outsized…

continue reading “Perfect Moments: The Girl Group on the Bus” —

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How It Was: The Boy, The Water…

[Not The Boy’s dangerous swimming area]

Many people, I know, actually look forward to mid-summer. It reminds them of easy childhood days (it has that effect on me, too), and suggests the prospect of recapturing some of those moments. You laze around a house or porch or beach, maybe with a book. Maybe board games are involved. Certainly, food cooked (or at least consumed) out-0f-doors will figure into it somehow. You swat at mosquitoes and siblings, while the ones stab at your skin and the others, at your psyche. Cicadas buzz at twilight, and fireflies ignite a little while later. (Maybe the cicadas were just the power generators kick-starting themselves.) The smell of newly mown grass perfumes the air. The moon rises in a star-speckled night sky; from a couple of back yards away, you can hear the laughter of adults discussing who knows what…

Memories of mid-summer also fire off in your head, almost inescapably, when the day is hot, the humidity high, and you hear from somewhere nearby a good, solid splash. I’m not talking the plain old splash of a spoon into dishwater, either, or even of an ice cube into a glass of tea. I mean the splash of a good-sized living creature into a substantial body of water: a pool, a lake, a river, even (between waves) the sea.

For some of you, no doubt, this splash makes you all wistful and nostalgic. Even the grown-up version of The Boy appreciates this sensation, vicariously. But the grown-up version of The Boy can’t help associating this splash with another, decades ago…

The Boy lived a mere two blocks from a great and beautiful body of water known to insiders as, simply, “the river.”

You could go down to the river on a hot summer afternoon, clamber down to the bank from the concrete wall erected (legend had it) by laborers during the period known as The Great Depression in order to hold back the mighty flood tides that they had had back then, when the Ice Age was ending and there was suddenly more water than the world could cope with. You could find flat stones, slimy mollusk shells, and (if you were willing to dare having your fingers slashed) shards of green Rolling Rock bottles to skip across the surface in the direction of the mansion on the far side, whose white pillars and especially whose windows gleamed invitingly a mere half-mile distant.

Yet perhaps it was the river itself that was the source of the discomfort The Boy had always had with the notion of buoyancy.

The Boy had many years ago been warned away from the river by his parents. His father had threatened him, as was his wont, with a sentence beginning, “If I ever, ever catch you down there…” and ending with a phrase the exact contents of which did not matter, since all such phrases always promised total annihilation. “A dragon lives there,” said his mother, more fancifully.

This dragon, The Boy imagined, was long and undulant, its silver skin scaly and iridescent; its head looked like an automobile hood ornament, steely and unforgiving. There would be a splash as it surfaced when adults (but never their children) were present, and it would glare at them with its red, hungry eyes, projecting telepathic thoughts at them like Bring me your children. It would look at The Boy’s own parents and add, Yours first.


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In the Dark, (Un)Watching the Watcher

[Image: The Night Watch, by Rembrandt van Rijn. Click the photo for a larger view. For more information about the painting, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it — it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less —
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

(Robert Frost [source])


Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.

(Anne Sexton, from “Admonitions to a Special Person” [source])


If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.

(Baba Ram Dass [widely quoted, but I haven’t yet found a source])

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