“The Days of Great Usefulness”

Image: 'The Great Bear and the Live Oak,' by Justin Kern

[Image: “The Great Bear and the Live Oak,” by Justin Kern. (Found it on Flickr, and using it here via a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer says that the image puts him in mind of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble“:  “These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all…”]

From whiskey river:

In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china tea set were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-gray sky. You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, pearl-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers. No matter what sort of pills, and how many, you’ve got to swallow this morning, you feel it’s not over for you yet. No matter, by the same token, how autonomous you are, how much you’ve been betrayed, how thorough and dispiriting in your self-knowledge, you assume there is still hope for you, or at least a future. (Hope, said Francis Bacon, is a good breakfast but bad supper.) This optimism derives from the haze, from the prayer part of it, especially if it’s time for breakfast. On days like this, the city indeed acquires a porcelain aspect, what with all its zinc-covered cupolas resembling teapots or upturned cups, and the tilted profile of campaniles clinking like abandoned spoons and melting in the sky. Not to mention the seagulls and pigeons, now sharpening into focus, now melting into air. I should say that, good though this place is for honeymoons, I’ve often thought it should be tried for divorces also – both in progress and already accomplished. There is no better backdrop for rapture to fade into; whether right or wrong, no egoist can star for long in this porcelain setting by crystal water, for it steals the show. I am aware, of course, of the disastrous consequence the above suggestion may have for hotel rates here, even in winter. Still, people love their melodrama more than architecture, and I don’t feel threatened. It is surprising that beauty is valued less than psychology, but so long as such is the case, I’ll be able to afford this city – which means till the end of my days, and which ushers in the generous notion of the future.

(Joseph Brodsky [source])

and (italicized portion):

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

(Joan Didion [source])

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Making a World (Over and Over)

'Calvin and Hobbes,' final panels (1995-12-31), by Bill Watterson

[Image: Final panels from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (December 31, 1995), by Bill Watterson — by my reckoning, still the best remaking of the world ever expressed in pen-and-ink-drawing form]

From whiskey river:

One can only know what occurs within the mind, which is the instrument or tool of conscious experience. There is no such thing as “out there.” There is only our perception as inbound data. Everything is registered, just as it is. It is only via the mind that a selective representation of the data is created. Thoughts are objects in the mind as things are objects in the world. The mind and the world are two separate dimensions, overlapping during the waking state. When you can so readily create a world when you dream, why do you believe the impossibility of your creating another world when you are awake?

(Wu Hsin, translated by Roy Melvyn [source])

…and:

Suzuki Roshi had a stick — and he would hit you — and when Suzuki Roshi hit you, everything disappeared — everything — there was no up or down — there was no forward or back — there were no thoughts — no feelings — you couldn’t even say there was something or nothing. It was really quite remarkable. And then, often times you would think “Well, wait a minute — where’s reality — how was I doing that? Wait a minute! There must be some way to put these things together so that it seems like there’s a world and there’s people and there’s me. Where are they?” Then you would see if you could get some sense of reality back again.

(Edward Espe Brown [source])

…and:

When you fall asleep, your body enters a state of slumber, but it nonetheless keeps ticking, its life continues, ready to resume where it left off. Your consciousness, however, vanishes completely. In no sense does it keep ticking. You, as we say, pass out. And when you emerge again, either in a dream or when you finally resume waking life, you emerge from nothing — but the very same you that you were before.

The fact of your self bootstrapping itself back into existence is such a familiar happening that you may not be as astonished by it as you should be. Nonetheless, you can scarcely fail to notice what goes on. And it could well provide an essential plank in your reasoning about immortality. Such a proven capacity for endless resurrection out of nothing is the one thing that proves everlasting existence — or at any rate re-existence — for your individual Ego.

(Nicholas Humphrey [source])

…and:

There are ways in, journeys to the center of life, through time, through air, matter, dream, and thought. The ways are not always mapped or charted, but sometimes being lost, if there is such a thing, is the sweetest place to be. And always, in this search, a person might find that she is already there, at the center of the world. It may be a broken world, but it is glorious nonetheless.

(Linda Hogan [source])

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