Stalking the Gaps

Image: 'Mångata,' photo by Louis Vest on Flickr

[Image: “Mångata,” by Louis Vest on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer explains: “Mångata is a Scandanavian word for the path that moonlight makes on the water — a word we don’t have in English.” The word captures such a perfect experience that I’m wondering why we don’t have an English-language counterpart.]

From whiskey river:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(W. H. Auden [source])

and:

Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

(Annie Dillard [source])

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There’s Gotta Be a Way…

Image: 'Push-me-Pull-you,' by user 'wiredwitch' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Push-me-Pull-you,” by Flickr user “wiredwitch” (actually a pair of Washington, DC-based photographers named Ketzirah Lesser and Art Drauglis). (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The description there says, in part: “We came across these two red fox[es] who appeared to be stuck together. Our first thought was that they were mating. But they were facing in opposite directions. Having not read the Kanine Sutra we were unaware if this position was even possible for coitus. The predicament went on for a few minutes and they remained entangled. We wondered if there was some glue or piece of trash or something which was keeping them together. The classic Washington dilemma then popped up: Which Agency Do I Call?” For the rest of the story, see the page on Flickr.]

From whiskey river:

So much of what we dream flickers out before we can
name it. Even the sun has been frozen on the next street.
Every word only reveals a past that never seems real.
Sometimes we just stare at the ground as if it were
a grave we could rent for a while. Sometimes we don’t
understand how all that grief fits beside us on the stoop.
There should be some sort of metaphor that lifts us away.
We should see the sky open up or the stars descend.
There are birds migrating, but we don’t hear them, cars
on their way to futures made of a throw of the dice.
The pigeons here bring no messages. A few flies
stitch the air. Sometimes a poem knows no way out
unless truth becomes just a homeless character in it.

(Richard Jackson [source])

and:

On Parables

Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: “Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.”

Another said: “I bet that is also a parable.”

The first said: “You have won.”

The second said: “But unfortunately only in parable.”

The first said: “No, in reality: in parable you have lost.”

(Franz Kafka [source])

and:

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

(Anne Lamott [source])

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Stories and Madness, Poem, Sentence, Silence

Excerpt from 'Street of Crocodiles' by Bruno Schulz, as 'edited' for J.S. Foer's 'Tree of Codes'

[Image: an excerpt from Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz.
See note at the foot of this post for more info.]

From whiskey river:

My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.

What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints, old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children’s books, old operas, silly old songs, the naive rhythms of country rimes.

I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents; I used to believe in every kind of magic.

I invented colors for the vowels. A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator.

I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.

(Arthur Rimbaud)

and (italicized portion, in a different translation):

For the poem does not stand outside time. True, it claims the infinite and tries to reach across time — but across, not above.

A poem, being an instance of language, hence essentially dialogue, may be a letter in a bottle thrown out to sea with the — surely not always strong — hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on a shoreline of the heart. In this way, too, poems are en route: they are headed toward.

Toward what? Toward something open, inhabitable, an approachable you, perhaps, an approachable reality.

(Paul Celan [source])

and:

A Certain Swirl

The classroom was dark, all the desks were empty,
and the sentence on the board was frightened to
find itself alone. The sentence wanted someone to
read it, the sentence thought it was a fine sentence, a
noble, thorough sentence, perhaps a sentence of
some importance, made of chalk dust, yes, but a sen-
tence that contained within itself a certain swirl not
unlike the nebulous heart of the unknown universe,
but if no one read it, how could it be sure? Perhaps it
was a dull sentence and that was why everyone had
left the room and turned out the lights. Night came,
and the moon with it. The sentence sat on the board
and shone. It was beautiful to look at, but no one
read it.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

The brain is silent, the brain is dark, the brain tastes nothing, the brain hears nothing. All it receives are electrical impulses — not the sumptuous chocolate melting sweetly, not the oboe solo like the flight of a bird, not the tingling caress, not the pastels of peach and lavender at sunset over a coral reef — just impulses.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

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Shut Up Shut Up Shut UP

[Image: Prototype of the SpeechJammer, a “gun” which makes it functionally impossible to talk.
Read about it at
 Wired.]

From whiskey river:

Silence is radical. When sustained, it has an effect on your perception comparable to that of any number of chemicals with which you might seek change. Your vision transforms, to start with; you suddenly find yourself absorbing what’s on the periphery, massive amounts of once-invisible data assailing your pupils. When you’re not preparing your next remark, your hearing capacity expands, too: the changing rhythms of the wind; the muted thud of a teardrop hitting the wooden floor; your neighbor’s beating heart. And taste, and smell, they’re amplified and shifted, as well — a cup of tea sipped without the surrounding dialogue (Earl Grey. You don’t? How about English Breakfast, then? No, no sugar, thanks. Watching my weight. Do you have one of those carrying trays? Wow, that sure is hot.) is a more intricate cup of tea. Silence gives you the opportunity to know any number of an object’s facets that typically disappear behind the verbal screens we erect constantly, unthinkingly, between our selves and our environments. And surely the power of wordless touch is one each of us knows; I need not expand on that.

(Anna Wood [source])

…and:

Silence

There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the ?oor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

(Billy Collins)

…and:

At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep – just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don’t do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression: instead, it is all there is.

(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters)

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Sleepwaking, Blindsighted, and a Little Bit of Movies in the Night

[Video: one of the best cinematic commentaries on ignoring (and paying attention to) the wrong things turned 71 the other day. Above, its trailer — complete with telephone commentary not actually in the film… and not showing its title character for even a single second.]

From whiskey river:

Solar

On a gray day, when the sun
has been abducted, and it’s chill
end-of-the-world weather,
I must be the sun.
I must be the one
to encourage the young
sidetracked physicist
working his father’s cash register
to come up with a law of nature
that says brain waves can change
the dismal sky. I must be the one
to remind the ginger plant
not to rest on the reputation
of its pungent roots, but to unveil
those buttery tendrils from the other world.
When the sky is an iron lid
I must be the one to simmer
in the piquant juices of possibility,
though the ingredients are unknown
and the day begins with a yawn.
I must issue forth a warmth
without discrimination, and any guarantee
it will come back to me.
On a dark day I must be willing
to keep my disposition light,
I have to be at the very least
one stray intact ray
of local energy, one small
but critical fraction
of illumination. Even on a day
that doesn’t look gray
but still lacks comfort or sense,
I have to be the sun,
I have to shine as if
sorry life itself depended on it.
I have to make all the difference.

(Thomas Centolella [source])

and:

Eyesight

It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

(A.R. Ammons [source])

and:

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

(Anne Lamott [source])

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Making the Trip

[Trailer for Adaptation (2002), starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper
and featuring a whole lot of other favorite, familiar faces]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book (the archives):

Human beings can’t live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target. Inside culture, the writer is the talking self. Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.

When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read. Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness — such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer’s first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language. Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.

The gate may open.

The gate may not.

Regardless, the writer can see straight through it.

(Jayne Anne Phillips)

Writing is one of the most easy, pain-free, and happy ways to pass the time in all the arts. For example, right now I am sitting in my rose garden and typing on my new computer. Each rose represents a story, so I’m never at a loss for what to write. I just look deep into the heart of the rose and read its story and write it down through typing, which I enjoy anyway. I could be typing kjfiu joew. mv jiw and would enjoy it as much as typing words that actually make sense. I simply relish the movement of my fingers on the keys. Sometimes, it is true, agony visits the head of a writer. At these moments, I stop writing and relax with a coffee at my favorite restaurant, knowing that words can be changed, rethought, fiddled with, and, of course, ultimately denied. Painters don’t have that luxury. If they go to a coffee shop, their paint dries into a hard mass.

(Steve Martin, “Writing Is Easy!” [source])

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