Caught Unawares

Image: 'Your Reflection May Be You,' by Simon Matzinger on Flickr

[Image: “Your reflection may be you,” by Simon Matzinger. Found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and:

Imagine that one day you are out for a walk in the woods. Suddenly you see a small spaceship on the path in front of you. A tiny Martian climbs out the spaceship and stands on the ground looking up at you…

What would you think? Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself?

It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.

I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.

You feel as if you are waking from an enchanted slumber. Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?

If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.

(Jostein Gaarder [source])

and:

Psychologists and psychiatrists are moving from their traditional hostility to ecstasy to an understanding that it’s often good for us. Much of our personality is made up of attitudes that are usually subconscious. We drag around buried trauma, guilt, feelings of low self-worth. In moments of ecstasy, the threshold of consciousness is lowered, people encounter these subconscious attitudes, and are able to step outside of them. They can feel a deep sense of love for themselves and others, which can heal them at a deep level. Maybe this is just an opening to the subconscious, maybe it’s a connection to a higher dimension of spirit — we don’t know… The journey beyond the self is not safe or predictable. On the other hand, staying in the self also has its risks — boredom, staleness, sterility, despair. Ultimately, there’s something in us that calls to us, that pulls us out the door.

(Jules Evans, thrive [source])

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The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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Container, Meet the Thing(s) Contained

'A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words,' by sk.fotography

[Image: “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words,” by sk.fotography. Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Dancing

It was my father taught my mother
how to dance.
I never knew that.
I thought it was the other way.
Ballroom was their style,
a graceful twirling,
curved arms and fancy footwork,
a green-eyed radio.

There is always more than you know.
There are always boxes
put away in the cellar,
worn shoes and cherished pictures,
notes you find later,
sheet music you can’t play.

A woman came on Wednesdays
with tapes of waltzes.
She tried to make him shuffle
around the floor with her.
She said it would be good for him.
He didn’t want to.

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and (italicized passage):

It is, of course, we who house poems as much as their words, and we ourselves must be the locus of poetry’s depth of newness. Still, the permeability seems to travel both ways: a changed self will find new meanings in a good poem, but a good poem also changes the shape of the self. Having read it, we are not who we were the moment before… Art lives in what it awakens in usIt is a triteness to say that the only thing to be counted upon is that what you count on will not be what comes. Utilitarian truths evaporate: we die. Poems allow us not only to bear the tally and toll of our transience, but to perceive, within their continually surprising abundance, a path through the grief of that insult into joy.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

and:

Joy

Don’t cry, its only music,
someone’s voice is saying.
No one you love is dying.

It’s only music. And it was only spring,
the world’s unreasoning body
run amok, like a saint’s, with glory,
that overwhelmed a young girl
into unreasoning sadness.
Crazy, she told herself,
I should be dancing with happiness.

But it happened again. It happens
when we make bottomless love—
there follows a bottomless sadness
which is not despair
but its nameless opposite.
It has nothing to do with the passing of time.
It’s not about loss. It’s about
two seemingly parallel lines
suddenly coming together
inside us, in some place
that is still wilderness.

Joy, joy, the sopranos sing,
reaching for the shimmering notes
while our eyes fill with tears.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

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The Awakening

[Video: magician Rob Zabrecky helps The 88 make a point about opening your eyes. Which is to say,
I
assume The 88 is making that point… ’cause I have no idea what the lyrics of this song are. People,
people — is it really that hard or copyright-threatening to make lyrics available when you release a
new song/video?]

From whiskey river:

The physical reinvention of the world is endless, relentless, fascinating, exhaustive; nothing that seems solid is. If you could stand at just a little distance in time, how fluid and shape-shifting physical reality would be, everything hurrying into some other form, even concrete, even stone.

(Mark Doty [source])

and (italicized paragraphs):

“The sense of justice is an enemy to prayer.”

I remember coming across this — what would you call it? — an assertion, an observation, a statement, thinking out loud, whatever it is that it should take up a whole page in Unattainable Earth, another later-career book by Milosz…

I have heard this line now so many times in my head that it has become something like a mantra. It turns me inside out and back into the world as it is and might be, and it does not cancel either justice or prayer but calmly evokes both. That is how I hear it now, today, at the moment I am writing this. As something I wish to hear. As something, in order to hear, I must say out loud in a way. Science now tells us that reading literally activates many of the same facial muscles that speaking does. Speaking and listening at once, each the same and ever the other — poetry can call both into being.

My favorite line of Whitman is from his long song of the earth “The Compost”:

Now I am terrified of the earth, it is that calm and patient.

As one ages, perhaps there is happiness only if, as Lowell puts it, there is a “terror in happiness…”

I now imagine I can hear some of that calm and patience, and even perhaps the terror, in the little bit of Milosz that takes up an entire page.

(William Olsen [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings.

(Richard Dawkins [source])

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Cold. So Cold.

'ice-creeksicles,' by Jeremy Hiebert

[Image: “ice-creeksicles,” by Jeremy Hiebert. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Winter Afternoon by the Lake

Black trunks, black branches, and white snow.
No one nearby, five o’clock, below zero,
Late January. No birds. No wind.
You look, and your life seems stopped. Perhaps

You died suddenly earlier today. But the thin
Moon says no. The trees say, “It’s been this way
Before, often. It’s cold, but it’s quiet.” We’ve experienced
This before, among the messy Saxons putting back

The hide flap. A voice says: “It’s old. You’ll never
See this again, the way it is now, because
Just today you sensed that someone gave you
Life and said, ‘Stay as long as you like.'”

The snow and the black trees, pause, to see if we’re
Ready to re-enter that stillness. “Not yet.”

(Robert Bly [source])

and:

Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter

It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.

(Robert Bly [source])

and:

There are stories that are true, in which each individual’s tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope. This is how we walk and talk and function, day in, day out, immune to others’ pain and loss. If it were to touch us it would cripple us or make saints of us; but, for the most part, it does not touch us. We cannot allow it to.

(Neil Gaiman [source])

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Getting There, Happily

[Image: A-Maze-ing Laughter, by Yue Minjun. More info in the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

If someone gave you a device with which you could see entire worlds just by holding it in front of your eyes, worlds of such beauty and complexity that they took your breath away, wouldn’t you want to show this device to everyone you knew?

(Ann Patchett [source])

and:

Late August

This is the plum season, the nights
blue and distended, the moon
hazed, this is the season of peaches

with their lush lobed bulbs
that glow in the dusk, apples
that drop and rot
sweetly, their brown skins veined as glands

No more the shrill voices
that cried Need Need
from the cold pond, bladed
and urgent as new grass

Now it is the crickets
that say Ripe Ripe
slurred in the darkness, while the plums

dripping on the lawn outside
our window, burst
with a sound like thick syrup
muffled and slow

The air is still
warm, flesh moves over
flesh, there is no

hurry

(Margaret Atwood [source])

and:

A great many people don’t know how to laugh at all. A man can give himself away completely by his laughter, so that you suddenly learn all of his innermost secrets. Laughter calls first of all for sincerity, and where does one find sincerity? Sincere and unspiteful laughter is mirth. A man’s mirth is a feature that gives away the whole man, from head to foot. Someone’s character won’t be cracked for a long time, then the man bursts out laughing somehow quite sincerely, and his whole character suddenly opens up as if on the flat of your hand. Only a man of the loftiest and happiest development knows how to be mirthful infectiously, that is, irresistibly and goodheartedly. I’m not speaking of his mental development, but of his character, of the whole man. And so, if you want to discern a man and know his soul, you must look, not at how he keeps silent, or how he speaks, or how he weeps, or even how he is stirred by the noblest ideas, but you had better look at him when he laughs. If a man has a good laugh, it means he’s a good man.

(Fyodor Dostoyevsky [source (slightly different wording)]

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Split and Crazy


[For information about this image (“Mirror Mask”), see the artist’s statement at the foot of this page. Clicking on the image above will enlarge it, if you want to experiment.]

From whiskey river:

This writing stuff saved me. It has become my way of responding to and dealing with things I find too disturbing or distressing or painful to handle in any other way. It’s safe. Writing is my shelter. I don’t hide behind the words; I use them to dig inside my heart to find the truth. I guess I can say, honestly, that writing also offers me a kind of patience I don’t have in my ordinary day-to-day life. It makes me stop. It makes me take note. It affords me a kind of sanctuary that I can’t get in my hurried and full-to-the-brim-with-activity life.

(Terry McMillan)

and:

Get yourself in that intense state of being next to madness. Keep yourself in, not necessarily a frenzied state, but in a state of great intensity. The kind of state you would be in before going to bed with your partner. That heightened state when you’re in a carnal embrace: time stops and nothing else matters. You should always write with an erection. Even if you’re a woman.

(Tom Robbins)

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Reluctant Words

[Image found someplace or other on the Web, while searching on this post’s title. It suggests a battleground on which a writer went head-to-head with his words — with neither emerging the clear victor.]

From whiskey river:

I demanded a realm in which I should be both master and slave at the same time: the world of art is the only such realm. I entered it without any apparent talent, a thorough novice, incapable, awkward, tongue-tied, almost paralyzed by fear and apprehensiveness. I had to lay one brick on another, set millions of words to paper before writing one real, authentic word dragged up from my own guts. The facility of speech which I possessed was a handicap; I had all the vices of the educated man. I had to learn to think, feel and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world. I had to throw myself into the current, knowing that I would probably sink. The great majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks them.

(Henry Miller, “Reflections on Writing” [source])

and (italicized portion):

Spelling

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling,
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
However.

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

(Margaret Atwood [source])

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It Went Right By You

[Image: “Lodz, PL, 1994.” A photo by Mark Pimlott from his 2008 exhibit, All Things Pass,
at Stroom Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (click for original)]

From whiskey river:

Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the riverbank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red. It’s the first week of October. Season of woolen garments taken out of mothballs; of nocturnal mists and dew and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs; of snapdragons having one last fling; of those frilly ornamental pink-and-purple cabbages that never used to exist, but are all over everywhere now.

(Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin [source])

and:

Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night.

(John O’Donohue, from Anam Cara [source])

and:

Sleepless

Can’t get clear of this dream,
can’t get sober.

Spring breeze chilly
on the flesh: me all alone.

My orphan sail
finds the bank
where reed flowers fall.

All night
the river sounds
the rain falling:
listen.

(Yuan Mei, from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas [source])

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Think You Know What’s Coming?

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin [source])

…and, from the whiskey river archives (the commonplace book):

How Much Happens in a Day

In the course of a day we shall meet one another.

But, in one day, things spring to life —
they sell grapes in the street,
tomatoes change their skin,
the young girl you wanted
never came back to the office.

They changed the postman suddenly.
The letters now are not the same.
A few golden leaves and it’s different;
this tree is now well off.

Who would have said that the earth
with its ancient skin would change so much?
It has more volcanoes than yesterday,
the sky has brand-new clouds,
the rivers are flowing differently.
Besides, so much has come into being!
I have inaugurated hundreds
of highways and buildings,
delicate, clean bridges
like ships or violins.

And so, when I greet you
and kiss your flowering mouth,
our kisses are other kisses,
our mouths are other mouths.

Joy, my love, joy in all things,
in what falls and what flourishes.

Joy in today and yesterday,
the day before and tomorrow.

Joy in bread and stone,
joy in fire and rain.

In what changes, is born, grows,
consumes itself, and becomes a kiss again.

Joy in the air we have,
and in what we have of earth.

When our life dries up,
only the roots remain to us,
and the wind is cold like hate.

Then let us change our skin,
our nails, our blood, our gazing;
and you kiss me and I go out
to sell light on the roads.

Joy in the night and the day,
and the four stations of the soul.

(Pablo Neruda; translation by Alastair Reid [source])

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