A Careful Decoding of the Obvious

'Now This One Shouldn't Be Too Hard to Locate!,' by user 'whatsthatpicture' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Now this one shouldn’t be too hard to locate!,” by Photos of the Past — a/k/a user “whatsthatpicture” — on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is one of a so-called “photo pool” by this Flickr user and others; the series consists of over 5,000 old photos taken in what are (obviously or less so) specific locations. The modern-day user then attempts to locate that setting in our own time frame, via Google Street View. If you read the comments at the Flickr page for this specific photo, you can see what the process is. In this case, it included, ultimately, transferring the image to the Google Street View “overlay” site called Historypin: there, a little slider gizmo at the top of the Street View lets you fade out the old photo, and fade it back in, in order to see how its subject fits into the latter-day scene.]

From whiskey river:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, and think this to be normal, is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

(Douglas Adams [source])

and:

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and:

Cliché

My life is an open book. It lies here
on a glass tabletop, its pages shamelessly exposed,
outspread like a bird with hundreds of thin paper wings.

It is a biography, needless to say,
and I am reading and writing it simultaneously
in a language troublesome and private.
Every reader must be a translator with a thick lexicon.

No one has read the whole thing but me.
Most dip into the middle for a few paragraphs,
then move on to other shelves, other libraries.
Some have time only for the illustrations.

I love to feel the daily turning of the pages,
the sentences unwinding like string,
and when something really important happens,
I walk out to the edge of the page
and, always the student,
make an asterisk, a little star, in the margin.

(Billy Collins [source])

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Attuned to the Frequencies of Things Other

'Tonometer (1876),' by Flickr user 'D_M_D'

[Image: “Tonometer (1876),” by Flickr user D_M_D (a/k/a sublimedutch). (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

The Night House

Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass—
the grass of civics, the grass of money—
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body—the house of voices—
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,

to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.

(Billy Collins [source])

and (italicized portion):

I lie here, expanding into the blackness, letting my body rest, my mind open. Oceanically, I feel waves of emotion—fear, joy, sadness—wash through me, and I feel connected with every living being. Somewhere this very moment, babies are born, fathers are dying, mothers are grieving. Yet, pervading all is a groundless awareness, delicate and strong at the same time. Everything becomes we, a beating heart with a transparent, radiant smile. And we are awake.

(Judith Simmer-Brown [source])

and:

If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes. You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them. And when that happens, reading those writers—not all of whom are modern… I mean, if you are willing to make allowances for the way English has changed, you can go way, way back with this—becomes a source of unbelievable joy. It’s like eating candy for the soul…

So probably the smart thing to say is that lucky people develop a relationship with a certain kind of art that becomes spiritual, almost religious, and doesn’t mean, you know, church stuff, but it means you’re just never the same.

(David Foster Wallace [source])

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At Sea

'It Wasn't Unfulfillment, But Rather Conscious Decisions on Their Path to Happiness,' by skrubu on Flickr.com

[Image: “It Wasn’t Unfulfillment, But Rather Conscious Decisions on Their Path to Happiness,”
a photo by user “skrubu” (Pekka Nikrus) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.
For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

(David Foster Wallace [source])

…and (same link as above):

If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles — to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are — is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true. Our universe is what it is simply because we are here. The situation can be likened to that of a group of intelligent fish who one day begin wondering why their world is completely filled with water. Many of the fish, the theorists, hope to prove that the cosmos necessarily has to be filled with water. For years, they put their minds to the task but can never quite seem to prove their assertion. Then a wizened group of fish postulates that maybe they are fooling themselves. Maybe, they suggest, there are many other worlds, some of them completely dry, some wet, and everything in between.

Some of the fish grudgingly accept this explanation. Some feel relieved. Some feel like their lifelong ruminations have been pointless. And some remain deeply concerned. Because there is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

(Alan Lightman [source])

…and (italicized portion):

Early one morning words were missing. Before that, words were not. Facts were, faces were. In a good story, Aristotle tells us, everything that happens is pushed by something else. Ond day someone noticed there were stars but no words, why? I’ve asked a lot of people, I think it is a good question. Three old women were bending in the fields. What use is it to question us? they said. Well it shortly became clear that they knew everything there is to know about the snowy fields and the bluegreen shoots and the plant called ‘audacity’ that poets mistake for violets. I began to copy out everything that was said. The marks construct an instant of nature gradually, without the boredom of a story. I emphasize this. I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

(Anne Carson [source, but quoted here and elsewhere])

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Still, Life

'Snow Face, Straight On' (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a winter photo by Janet Nezon

[Image: “Snow Face, Straight On” (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a wintry photo
by Janet Nezon at her
Lessons from Gus blog]

From whiskey river:

…It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it… I know that sounds a little pious.

(David Foster Wallace [source]

…and:

Motto

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

…and:

Pleasures

First look from morning’s window
The rediscovered book
Fascinated faces
Snow, the change of the seasons
The newspaper
The dog
Dialectics
Showering, swimming
Old music
Comfortable shoes
Comprehension
New music
Writing, planting
Traveling
Singing
Being friendly.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

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Something Happened (or Threatened to (or Didn’t))

[Image: untitled photograph by David Solomons, from his 2009 book (and gallery show) Happenstance.]

From whiskey river:

The next suitable person you’re in a light conversation with, stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.

(David Foster Wallace [source])

and:

Three Times My Life Has Opened

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and starts
to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.
These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.

But outside my window all day a maple has stepped from her leaves
like a woman in love with winter, dropping the colored silks.
Neither are we different in what we know.
There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of light
stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

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The Universes through the Keyhole

[Not just any old astronomical photograph. (Click to enlarge.) See
the note at the foot of this post for more info.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Fall

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])

and:

The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.

But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think… The truth is you’ve already heard this. That this is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul.

(David Foster Wallace [source])

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Ruminating in Place (with Company)

[Image: cartoon from Bizarro, by Dan Piraro. Original (in color!) here.]

Sigh. After an unexpected and almost complete Internet blackout Monday through Wednesday, I couldn’t get to it from home at all this morning.

So… In lieu of a regular Friday post, then, I thought I might just share with you — anyone who’s reading this — the whiskey river selections I culled from this past week. And then I’ll turn the comments over to you, to share any quotations (from any source, but please provide it!) which these items put you in mind of. If you don’t feel comfortable copying’n’pasting, and/or don’t want to key something in, a link to the item will do nicely.

(If you offer up a YouTube link, I’ll come back to embed the video itself for you. Audio is trickier, but we can work something out.)

Got it?

Okay. Let’s try it, this once: a Friday whiskey river interactive group meditation.

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Go Right Ahead

[Image: note dropped by South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly onto the deck of the USS Midway on April 30, 1975. It says, “Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to mouve. Please rescue me. Major Buang, wife and 5 child.” See the marvelous Letters of Note site for the complete story.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

(Philip Levine [source])

and:

The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.

But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think… The truth is you’ve already heard this. That this is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you’re a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it’s only a part. Who wouldn’t? It’s called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali — it’s not English anymore, it’s not getting squeezed through any hole.

So cry all you want, I won’t tell anybody.

(David Foster Wallace, from Oblivion: Stories [source])

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Destiny Has No Beeper

[See Note at bottom of this post for information about this image.]

From whiskey river:

Almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Pssst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

(David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)

…and:

Have you watched your thinking? I watched that car go by, it was a blue car. Can I watch my thought in the same way, as it moves from one thing to another? And if it does, find out if it can end; instead of it being a long thread, break it, see what happens. Can you break a thought and say, “Well, that’s enough, enough is enough” and just end that thought and see what happens before the next thought is waiting. Before it springs on you, watch it. In that space, in that interval, what happens?

(Jiddu Krishnamurti, As the River Joins The Ocean)

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Being Here (Today)

Pogo: Churchy's paraskavedekatriaphobia (click for full strip)

From whiskey river (first 3+ lines not included there):

from The Ninth Duino Elegy

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate?. . .

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too. . . . .

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some
strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

(Rainer Maria Rilke, c. 1922 [source])

and:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

(David Foster Wallace, 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College [source])

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