Department of Unmagical Thinking

Image: '1688 miracle,' by nebojsamladjenovic on Flickr.com

[Image: “1688 miracle,” by nebojsa mladjenovic on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

A certain man… once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish—but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

and:

Making a Fist

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

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Sometimes, It’s Just Bliss. Sometimes, It’s the Whole Point.

[Video: Lindsey Stirling and The Piano Guys, “Theme from Mission Impossible.”
See the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

and:

It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don’t open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there’s an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what’s in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. But the clammy, sad little foetus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn’t want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not knowing. The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got and which if he had it, would save him. There’s the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know.

(Robert Penn Warren [source])

and:

I believe that it is bracing and vital to live in a world in which we do not know all the answers. I believe that we are inspired and goaded on by what we don’t understand. And I hope that there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown, beyond which lies strangeness and unpredictability and life.

(Alan Lightman [source])

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Artful Bullies

'Imperial Art Appreciation: Blue,' by JD Hancock on Flickr

[Image: “Imperial Art Appreciation: Blue,” by JD Hancock on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions — all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.

(Alain de Botton and John Armstrong [source])

and:

I’m Working on the World

I’m working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.

Here’s one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple “Hi there,”
when traded with a fish,
make both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.

The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoot of owls!
Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they are sleeping in the park!

Time (Chapter Two) retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time’s unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won’t be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows.

Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don’t whine that it’s steep:
you’ll stay young if you’re good.
Suffering (Chapter Three)
doesn’t insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.

When it comes, you’ll be dreaming
that you don’t need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it’s part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;
you’d feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.

Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach’s fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.

(Wislawa Szymborska [source])

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The Stutter in the Clock’s Second Hand

[Image: “It’s time to stop, the night said to me,” by Brandon Barr. One of many photos in The 24 Hour Project, a worldwide collaboration of 65 photographers documenting every hour of the day…  in over 35 cities. Barr’s photo of a street corner in Atlanta was snapped at 11:03p.m.]

From whiskey river:

We Have Time

We have time for everything
Sleep, run back and forth,
regret we made an error and err again
judge others and absolve ourselves,
we have time to read and write,
edit what we wrote, regret what we wrote,
we have time to make projects and never follow through
we have time to dwell in illusions and stir through
their ashes much later.

We have time for ambitions and diseases,
to blame destiny and details,
we have time to look at the clouds, at the ads, or some random accident, we have time
to chase away our questions, postpone our answers, we have time
to crush a dream and reinvent it, we have time to make friends,
to lose them, we have time to take lessons and forget them
soon after, we have time to receive gifts and not understand them. We have time for everything.

No time, though, for a little tenderness.
When we’re about to do that, too, we die.

(Octavian Paler)

…and:

It seems that most of us could benefit from a brush with a near-fatal disaster to help us recognize the important things that we are too defeated or embittered to recognize from day to day.

(Alain de Botton [source])

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What Doesn’t Change

[Video: “Every Day the Same Dream,” based on the Flash-based game of the same name]

From whiskey river:

I do not believe the meaning of life is a puzzle to be solved. Life is. Anything might happen. And I believe I may invest my life with meaning. The uncertainty is a blessing in disguise. If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease.

(Robert Fulghum)

… and:

Formaggio

The world
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.

It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.

On Huron Avenue they became
a block of stores; they became
Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever
they were or sold, they were
alike in their function: they were
visions of safety. Like
a resting place. The salespeople
were like parents; they appeared
to live there. On the whole,
kinder than parents.

Tributaries
feeding into a large river: I had
many lives. In the provisional world,
I stood where the fruit was,
flats of cherries, clementines,
under Hallie’s flowers.

I had many lives. Feeding
into a river, the river
feeding into a great ocean. If the self
becomes invisible has it disappeared?

I thrived. I lived
not completely alone, alone
but not completely, strangers
surging around me.

That’s what the sea is:
we exist in secret.

I had lives before this, stems
of a spray of flowers: they became
one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon
visible under the hand. Above the hand,
the branching future, stems
ending in flowers. And the gripped fist —
that would be the self in the present.

(Louise Glück)

and:

You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.

(Alain de Botton)

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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])

and:

IV

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])

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