April 06, 2015

Life is most transfixing when you are awake to diversity, not only of ethnicity, ability, gender, belief, and sexuality but also of age and experience.

Illustration by Roman Muradov (for The New Yorker)

The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers
By Andrew Solomon

I like this:

"When one is young and eager, one aspires to maturity, and everyone older would like nothing better than to be young. We have equal things to teach each other. Life is most transfixing when you are awake to diversity, not only of ethnicity, ability, gender, belief, and sexuality but also of age and experience. The worst mistake anyone can make is to perceive anyone else as lesser. The deeper you look into other souls—and writing is primarily an exercise in doing just that—the clearer people’s inherent dignity becomes. So I would like to be young again—for the obvious dermatological advantages, and because I would like to recapture who I was before the clutter of experience made me a bit more sagacious and exhausted. What I’d really like, in fact, is to be young and middle-aged, and perhaps even very old, all at the same time—and to be dark- and fair-skinned, deaf and hearing, gay and straight, male and female. I can’t do that in life, but I can do it in writing, and so can you. Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too."

I'll be back again soon.

February 22, 2015

He replied that I was not to worry, that the penny could come out of the fountain again and again and again.

Let The Great World Spin
By Colum McCann

This novel is a work of art & there is so much more greatness & sadness & humor & beauty & depth in it than I could ever hope to capture with a few excerpts. It's perfect as whole. I hope to reread it again someday. 

"I told him that I loved him and that I'd always love him and I felt like a child who throws a centavo into a fountain and then she has to tell someone her most extraordinary wish even though she knows that the wish should be kept secret and that, in telling it, she is quite probably losing it. He replied that I was not to worry, that the penny could come out of the fountain again and again and again."
(p. 277)

"I will always wonder what it was, what that moment of beauty was, when he whispered it to me, when we found him smashed up in the hospital, what it was he was saying when he whispered into the dark that he had seen something he could not forget, a jumble of words, a man, a building, I could not quite make it out. I can only hope that in the last minute he was at peace. It might have been an ordinary thought, or it might have been that he had made up his mind that he would leave the Order, and that nothing would stop him now, and he would come home to me, or maybe it was nothing at all, just a simple moment of beauty, a little thing hardly worth talking about, a random meeting, or a word he had with Jazzlyn or Tillie, a joke, or maybe he had decided that, yes, he could lose me now, that he could stay with his church and do his work, or maybe there was nothing on his mind at all, perhaps he was just happy, or in agony, and the morphine had scattered him--there are all these things and there are more--it is impossible to know. I hold in confusion the last moments of his language."
(p. 283)

"In my worst moments I am convinced that he was rushing home to say good-bye, that he was driving too fast because he made up his mind, and it was finished, but in my best, my very best, he comes up on the doorstep, smiling, with his arms spread wide, in order to stay.
And so this is how I will leave him as much, and as often, as I can. It was--it is--a Thursday morning a week before the crash, and it fits in the space of every other morning I wake into. He sits between Eliana and Jacobo, on the couch, his arms spread wide, the buttons of his black shirt open, his gaze fixed forward. Nothing will ever really take him from the couch. It is just a simple brown thing, with mismatching cushions, and a hole in the armrest where it has been worn through, a few coins from his pocket fallen down into the gaps, and I will take it with me wherever I go, to Zacapa, or the nursing home, or any other place I happen to find."
(p. 284)

"The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough."
(p. )

The core reason for it all was beauty.

Let The Great World Spin
By Colum McCann

"Within seconds he was pureness moving, and he could do anything he liked. He was inside and outside his body at the same time, indulging in what it meant to belong to the air, no future, no past, and this gave him the offhand vaunt to his walk. He was carrying his life from one side to the other. On the lookout for the moment when he wasn't even aware of his breath.
The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.
He felt for a moment uncreated. Another kind of awake."
(p. 164)

"Which was one of the things that made Judge Soderberg think that the tightrope walker was such a stroke of genius. A monument in himself. He had made himself into a statue, but a perfect New York one, a temporary one, up in the air, high above the city. A statue that had no regard for the past. He had gone to the World Trade Center and had strung his rope across the biggest towers in the world. The Twin Towers. Of all places. So brash. So glassy. So forward-looking. Sure, the Rockefellers had knocked down a few Greek revival homes and a few classic brownstones to make way for the towers--which had annoyed Claire when she read about it--but mostly it had been electronics stores and cheap auction houses where men with quick tongues had sold everything useless under the sun, carrot peelers and radio flashlights and musical snow globes. In place of the shysters, the Port Authority had built two towering beacons high in the clouds. The glass reflected the sky, the night, the colors: progress, beauty, capitalism.
Soderberg wasn't one to sit around and decry what used to be. The city was bigger than its buildings, bigger than its inhabitants too. It had its own nuances. It accepted whatever came its way, the crime and the violence and the little shocks of good that crawled out from underneath the everyday.
He figured that the tightrope walker must have thought it over quite a bit beforehand. It wasn't just an offhand walk. He was making a statement with his body, and if he fell, well, he fell--but if he survived he would become a monument, not carved in stone or encased in brass, but one of those New York monuments that made you say: Can you believe it? With an expletive. There would always be an expletive in a New York sentence. Even from a judge. Soderberg was not fond of bad language, but he knew its value at the right time. A man on a tightrope, a hundred and ten stories in the air, can you possibly fucking believe it?
(pp. 248-9)

February 14, 2015

There were rocks deep enough in this earth that no matter what the rupture, they will never see the surface...There is a fear of love.

Let The Great World Spin
By Colum McCann

"Maybe, yes, it's just pure selfishness. They did not notice the mezuzah on the door, the painting of Solomon, didn't mention a single thing about the apartment, just launched right in and began. They even walked up to the rooftop without asking. Maybe that's just the way they do it, or maybe they're blinded by the paintings, the silverware, the carpets. Surely there were other well-heeled boys packed off to war. Not all of them had flat feet. Maybe she should meet other women, more of her own. But more of her own what? Death, the greatest democracy of them all. The world's oldest complaint. Happens to us all. Rich and poor. Fat and thin. Fathers and daughters. Mothers and sons. She feels a pang, a return. Dear Mother, this is just to say that I have arrived safely, the first began. And then at the end he was writing, Mama, this place is a nothing place, take all the places and give me nothing instead. Oh. Oh. Read all the letters of the world, love letters or hate letters or joy letters, and stack them up against the single one hundred and thirty-seven that my son wrote to me, place them end to end, Whitman and Wilde and Wittgenstein and whoever else, it doesn't matter -- there's no comparison. All the things he used to say! All the things he could remember! All that he put his finger upon!" 
(p. 107)

"Her Bronx accent threw the poem around until it seemed to fall at her feet." 
(p. 148)

"Outside, there were two tickets in the window of the Pontiac--a parking fine, and one for a smashed headlight. It was enough to almost knock me sideways. Before I drove him to the cabin, I went back to the window of the bar and shaded my eyes against the glass, looked in. Ciaran was at the counter, his arms folded and his chin on his wrist, talking to the bartender. He glanced up in my direction and I froze. Quickly I turned away. There were rocks deep enough in this earth that no matter what the rupture, they will never see the surface.
There is, I think, a fear of love.
There is a fear of love. 
(p. 156) 

February 07, 2015

Human knowledge is power, Mama. The only limits are in our minds.

Let The Great World Spin
By Colum McCann

Hello hello hello. Not a great reading/blogging start for me this year but that's OK because the new year is exciting and I've been living. And I am ready now to tackle the many many books I want to finish in 2015.

Colum McCann is a poet. His sentences are poetry. I love this read, though it took me a while to embrace it. My friend gave it to me for Secret Santa -- a great gift. I'm about halfway through & savoring his language every moment.

"Some kids were dancing on the corners. Their bodies in flux. Like they had discovered something entirely new about themselves, shaking it through like a sort of faith."
(p. 70)

"Nothing much happening on Park. Everyone gone to their summer homes. Solomon, dead against. City boy. Likes his late hours. Even in summertime. His kiss this morning made me feel good. And his cologne smell. Same as Joshua's. Oh, the day Joshua first shaved! Oh, the day! Covered himself in foam. So very careful with the razor. Made an avenue through the cheek, but nicked himself on the neck. Tore off a tiny piece of his Daddy's Wall Street Journal. Licked it and pasted it to the wound. The business page clotting his blood. Walked around with the paper on his neck for an hour. He had to wet it to get it off. She had stood at the bathroom door, smiling. My big tall boy, shaving. Long ago, long ago. The simple things come back to us. They rest for a moment by our ribcages then suddenly reach in and twist our hearts a notch backward.
No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon."
(p. 81)

"Perhaps she could hire Gloria. Bring her in. Odd jobs around the house. The bits and pieces. They could sit at the kitchen table together and while away the days, make a secret gin and tonic or two, and let the hours just drift, her and Gloria, at ease, at joy, yes, Gloria, in excelsis deo." 
(p. 82)

"It was easy enough to write a program that would collate the dead, he said, but what he really wanted was to write a program that could make sense of the dying. That was the deep future. One day the computers would bring all the great minds together. Thirty, forty, a hundred years from now. If we don't blow one another asunder first. 
We're at the cusp of human knowledge here, Mama, he said. He wrote about the dream of widely separated facilities sharing special resources. Of messages that were able to go back and forth. Of remote systems that could be manipulated through the telephone lines. Of computers that were capable of repairing their own malfunctions. Of protocols and bulk erasers and teletype printouts and memory and RAM and maxing out the Honeywell and fooling around on the prototype Alto that had been sent across. He described circuit boards like some people described icicles. He said that the Eskimos had sixty-four words for snow but that didn't surprise him; he thought they should have more -- why not? It was about the deepest sort of beauty, the product of the human mind being stamped onto a piece of silicon that you might one day cart around in your briefcase. A poem in a rock. A theorem in a slice of stone. The programmers were the artisans of the future. Human knowledge is power, Mama. The only limits are in our minds. He said there was nothing that a computer couldn't do, even the most complicated problems, find the value of pi, the root of all language, the most distant star. It was crazy how small the world truly was. It was a matter of opening up to it. What you want is your machine to speak back to you, Mama. It almost has to be human. You have to think of it that way. It's like a Walt Whitman poem: you can put in it everything you want."
(p. 89)

December 24, 2014

I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed

I've been trying to post these last passages since December 20, the day I saw the movie. I wanted to wait until I knew how exactly to describe the experience of reading this book and watching the movie, both things which I did by myself. It was much like the experience of reading Tiny Beautiful Things -- of feeling that you are understood and not alone. And also in some cases, that you are lucky. That you are OK. I identified with her intense, undying love for her mother. Her passion for words. Her desire for love, sex, purpose, and adventure. Curiosity mixed with enchantment of the natural world. Her insecurities. I mean, there was even Box of Rain! A song I often looked to for comfort in my earlier 20s. Wild is a story that's as heartbreaking as it is empowering, and the latter feeling more so by the time it ends. There are tons of great passages, including some funny ones involving the people she meets on the trail. They won't be here but they are great reminders that many of the people in the world are kind and trustworthy. I wonder if I'd be so lucky if I embarked on a similar journey. 

"There were so many other amazing things in this world.
They opened up inside of me like a river. Like I didn't know I could take a breath and then I breathed. I laughed with the joy of it, and the next moment I was crying my first tears on the PCT. I cried and I cried and I cried. I wasn't crying because I was happy. I wasn't crying because I was sad. I wasn't crying because of my mother or my father or Paul. I was crying because I was full. Of those fifty-some hard days on the trail and of the 9,760 days that had come before them too.
I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn't feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.
(p. 233)

"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life--like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be."
(p. 311)

It was the thing I wished for when I had a wish to make.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed

This falls into the category of "made me cry." (This also marks the second passage on this blog detailing a horse's death. Ugh.)
Tragic and beautiful.

"I whispered to Lady as I put her halter on, telling her how much I loved her as I led her out of her stall. Paul shut the gate behind us, trapping Roger inside so he couldn't follow. I led her across the icy snow, turning back to watch her walk one last time. She still moved with an unspeakable grace and power, striding with the long, grand high-stepping gait that always took my mother's breath away. I led her to a birch tree that Paul and I had chosen the previous afternoon and tied her to it by her lead rope. The tree was on the very edge of the pasture, beyond which the woods thickened in earnest, far enough away from the house that I hoped the coyotes would approach and take her body that night. I spoke to her and ran my hands over her chestnut coat, murmuring my love and sorrow, begging her forgiveness and understanding.
When I looked up, my brother was standing there with his rifle.
Paul took my arm and together we stumbled through the snow to stand behind Leif. We were only six feet away from Lady. Her warm breath was like a silk cloud. The frozen crust of the snow held us for a moment, then collapsed so we all sank up to our knees.
"Right between her eyes," I said to Leif, repeating yet again the words our grandfather had said to me. If we did that, he promised, we'd kill her in one clean shot.
Leif crouched, kneeling on one knee. Lady pranced and scraped her front hooves on the ice and then lowered her head and looked at us. I inhaled sharply and Leif fired the gun. The bullet hit Lady right between her eyes, in the middle of her white star, exactly where we hoped it would. She bolted so hard her leather halter snapped into pieces and fell away from her face, and then she stood unmoving, looking at us with a stunned expression.
"Shoot her again," I gasped, and immediately Leif did, firing three more bullets into her head in quick succession. She stumbled and jerked, but she didn't fall and she didn't run, though whew as no longer tied to the tree. Her eyes were wild upon us, shocked by what we'd done, her face a constellation of bloodless hole. In an instant I knew we'd done the wrong thing, not in killing her, but in thinking that we should be the ones to do it. I should have insisted Eddie do this one thing, or paid for the veterinarian to come out. I'd had the wrong idea of what it takes to kill an animal. There is no such thing as one clean shot.
"Shoot her! Shoot her!" I pleaded in a guttural wail I didn't know was mine.
"I'm out of bullets," Leif yelled.
"Lady!" I shrieked. Paul grabbed my shoulders to pull me toward him and I batted him away, panting and whimpering as if someone were beating me to death.
Lady took one wobbling step and then fell onto her front knees, her body tilting hideously forward as if she were a great ship slowly sinking into the sea. Her head swayed and she let out a deep moan. Blood gushed from her soft nostrils in sudden, great torrent, hitting the snow so hot it hissed. She coughed and coughed, tremendous buckets of blood coming each time, her back legs buckling in excruciating slow motion beneath her. She hovered there, struggling to stay grotesquely up, before she finally toppled over onto her side, where she kicked her legs and flailed and twisted her neck and fought to rise again.
"Lady!" I howled. "Lady!"
Leif grabbed me. "Look away!"he shouted, and together we turned away.
"LOOK AWAY!" he hollered to Paul, and Paul obeyed.
"Please come take her," Leif chanted, as tears streaked down his face. "Come take her. Come take her. Come take her."
When I turned, Lady had dropped her head to the ground at last, though her sides still heaved and her legs twitched. The three of us staggered closer, breaking through the snow's crust to sink miserably to our knees again. We watched as she breathed enormous slow breaths and then finally she sighed and her body went still.
Our mother's horse. Lady. Stonewall's Highland Nancy was dead.
Whether it had taken five minutes or an hour, I didn't know. My mittens and hat had fallen off, but I could not bring myself to retrieve them. My eyelashes had frozen into clumps. Strands of hair that had blown onto my tear- and snot-drenched face had frozen into icicles that clinked when I moved. I pushed them numbly away, unable even to register the cold. I knelt beside Lady's belly and ran my hands along her blood-speckled body one last time. She was still warm, just as my mother had been when I'd come into the room at the hospital and seen that she'd died without me. I looked at Leif and wondered if he was remembering the same thing. I crawled to her head and touched her cold ears, soft as velvet. I put my hands over the black bullet holes in her white star. The deep tunnels of blood that had burned through the snow around her were already beginning to freeze.
Paul and I watched as Leif took out his knife and cut bundles of reddish-blonde hair from Lady's mane and tail. He handed one to me.
"Mom can go to the other side now," he said, looking into my eyes as if it were only the two of us in the entire world. "That's what the Indians believe--that when a great warrior dies you've got to kill their horse so he can cross over to the other side of the river. It's a way of showing respect. Maybe Mom can ride away now."
I imagined our mother crossing a great river on Lady's strong back finally leaving us nearly three years after she died. I wanted it to be true. It was the thing I wished for when I had a wish to make. Not that my mother would ride back to me--though, of course, I wanted that--but that she and Lady would ride away together. That the worst thing I'd ever done had been a healing instead of a massacre."
(pp. 160-3)