"A friend asked yesterday if this blog is addressed to anyone in particular? I said yes– it’s a love letter to someone I haven’t met yet."
I’ve never been a big Bible quoter but recently I came across this one and it struck a deep note. Around the end of any year I’m always on the hunt for a good quote, poem or prose passage that might put us in the right frame of mind for the next 365. This line from the Bible does that really well. So Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2010 both lifts and anchors us all in the best ways at the same time.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
And just for good measure, here’s one more quote to think about as the new decade begins: “Only those who risk get to drink champagne.”
Someone wrote in today with a scolding voice saying, “I was in a bookstore looking for something new to read. I picked up a novel by ******, an author I hadn’t read before. On the back cover was a nice quote from YOU praising the book. So on that basis I bought it, read it, and HATED it. Thanks a lot, JC. You owe me $15.” Naturally I did some research at Amazon.com where you can see pictures of both the front and back of any book. On purpose I review very few books so I clearly remember the ones I’ve done. The novel this person read I didn’t like at all. What made me frown was the quote the publisher used on the dust cover was one they had cherry picked from my distinctly negative review. The novel is by a very famous author but it is a genuine stinker and my review said that clearly. The only thing I mentioned liking about it was the single line they used as the blurb on the back of the jacket. The lesson to be learned is beware of books bearing bogus blurbs. Buy it because you want to read it, not because someone else “recommended” it. Scoundrels abound, even in the book trade.
Years ago I wrote a short story in which the main character is dying of cancer. While walking down a busy street one day, it suddenly strikes him that for certain some of the people he's passing are also gravely ill or dying. It is a revelation that makes him watch the world much more closely afterwards. While out for a walk this beautiful afternoon, I got a call on my cell phone from a friend who's in a bad place emotionally. I stopped in the middle of a medieval courtyard to talk to them. Our conversation was long and intense. People passed by laughing, talking and sometimes smiling when we exchanged glances. A few of them were speaking animatedly into phones as they passed. I thought how often we pass others on the street without ever thinking that this moment or time may be incredibly important to them, life changing even. In the fifteen seconds it takes to pass someone talking on a phone, they are being told their medical test results and they aren’t good. Perhaps their sister just gave birth, or something else ominous or momentous. Without knowing it, we are inadvertently in their *space* when a huge piece of their life slides into place forever.
One of the interesting things about this time of year is often the strangest people get in touch, frequently after decades of silence. You receive a Christmas card or an email saying Hello-- it's been years but here I am again. How are you? Merry Christmas. The mind has to shift into neutral for a few seconds to process this name, then dredge up their face, and finally the memories of this person who left your solar system long ago. But now, like Haley's Comet, their orbit has for some reason brought them back for a glimpse before they're off again into the far reaches of life's cosmos..I like it when this happens. It reminds me that I've had more than one life, one set of friends, one set of intimates, etcetera. It reminds me that any life really is made up of chapters and that the one we inhabit right now is just one and not the whole story.
"Scheherazade was so wrong; she had it all backwards. For 1001 nights, she told her king new stories to keep him interested and spare her life. But men don’t want to hear stories-- they want to tell them. They want to talk; they want to hold the floor. Males want the world to listen to whatever it is they have to say. That was the single thing she learned from her dismal period of Internet dating—most men really only want to talk to someone who listens. Some want to download while others want your sympathy. Some want admiration but not as many as she had originally imagined. More often than not, men just want to tell you what they’re thinking or how they see the world. They prefer an appreciative audience but willingly settle for an attentive one. She realized after meeting so many men in a short period of time that the best way to start things going on a date was to give the guys a little verbal push and off they’d go—talking about themselves, their world, their take on things. If Scheherazade had done it right, all she’d have had to do was get her king talking about a subject that intrigued him and she wouldn’t have had to tell a new story every night for three years."
from a new short story to be published in May by CONJUNCTIONS magazine
I don’t know about you, but I remember certain books because of where I read them or the circumstances surrounding the reading more than what the story was actually about. The other day I was poking in a bin at a 2nd hand store and came across a very good novel I’d read long ago. What immediately came to mind when I saw the book was reading it at Vienna’s only PIZZA HUT one winter day a decade ago. The Austrian version of PH was shitty (that place closed soon after and the whole franchise slunk out of the country years ago, its mozzarella tail drooping between its legs). But reading the book that cold wet day, staying longer at the table after finishing my dismal meal only because the story had me wrapped around its finger, is what remains. I’m sure the author wouldn’t like hearing that his good work is forever linked in my head with a dreary chain restaurant serving crap food, but what can I say? A favorite novel, LIGHT YEARS by James Salter, was begun one August afternoon on a balcony overlooking a romantic Swiss valley just as a thunderstorm was rumbling in over the Alps. From the first pages I knew the book was going to be very special. But I couldn’t stop looking around at that spectacular landscape, the approaching plum-purple clouds, the trees in full bloom whipped here and there by the growing wind. The book, the place, the heady mountain air, the coming storm: One of those rare sacred moments where you’re so glad to be alive that every inch of your being says thank you.
by Galway Kinnell
I open my eyes to see how the night
is progressing. The clock glows green,
the light of the last-quarter moon
shines up off the snow into our bedroom.
Her portion of our oceanic duvet
lies completely flat. The words
of the shepherd in Tristan, "Waste
and empty, the sea," come back to me.
Where can she be? Then in the furrow
where the duvet overlaps her pillow,
a small hank of brown hair
shows itself, her marker that she's here,
asleep, somewhere down in the dark
underneath. Now she rotates
herself a quarter turn, from strewn
all unfolded on her back to bunched
in a Z on her side, with her back to me.
I squirm nearer, careful not to break
into the immensity of her sleep,
and lie there absorbing the astounding
quantity of heat a slender body
ovens up around itself.
Her slow, purring, sometimes snorish,
perfectly intelligible sleeping sounds
abruptly stop. A leg darts back
and hooks my ankle with its foot
and draws me closer. Immediately
her sleeping sounds resume, telling me:
"Come, press against me, yes, like that,
put your right elbow on my hipbone, perfect,
and your right hand at my breasts, yes, that's it,
now your left arm, which has become extra,
stow it somewhere out of the way, good.
Entangled with each other so, unsleeping one,
together we will outsleep the night."
If I owned a bar or restaurant, I would always keep it open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Almost everything in Vienna is closed then. But lots of people visit here for the holidays and it's sad walking around town on those two days, seeing the tourists or the lonely single person looking for any place to eat or hang out while the rest of the city is home Christmas cocooning and doing the traditional things. Years ago a friend from Germany and I went out for a drink on Christmas Eve. For a while it was creepy and like being in an ominous movie because everything was closed and dark, no one was on the streets, the only places open a few grim Chinese restaurants that were completely empty and iffy looking at best. Eventually after wandering around for a long time, on a back street we found a small bar that was lit up and open. We went in. It was like entering one of those happy beer commercials on television. As soon as we opened the door everyone inside that packed, buzzing place looked at us with smiling welcoming faces. Asif we were shipwreck victims who, like them, had somehow survived the Christmas storm by swimming to this shore and now we were all safe. The feeling in that bar was unbelievably warm and...merry. Everyone was buying everyone else drinks and we hung out there for hours. One of the merriest Christmases I have ever known.
That said, Merry Christmas everyone.
I don't know how we got onto the subject, but the woman giving me a haircut told an interesting story. She said her ex-husband had had a gruesome accident and was clinically dead for a few minutes before they revived him. He lost so much blood in the accident that he had to be given huge transfusions. After fully recovering, he was an almost entirely different man. Where once he had been tight fisted, now he was very generous with her. At the same time, where once he had said what's mine is yours, after the accident he made it plain that he would get her whatever she wanted but everything would remain in his name. She said in general what had been black in his personality before the accident became white and vice versa. It got so peculiar and hard to deal with that eventually she told him point blank that he was no longer the man she married; he was 180 degrees different. She used the nice phrase "his poles had reversed." Finally she could no longer bear it and they were divorced, although to this day he says she is the only woman in the world for him. When she had finished telling me the story, she said for perhaps the fifth time-- "It was the transfusion. I am certain that putting all that blood in him from another person at one time changed him forever." I could only shrug-- maybe she was right.
“Then he fell in love. One April day, a 109 pound American blue nose pit bull terrier named ‘Slab’ marched toward him on 47th street. The dog looked like a molasses colored sumo wrestler on four short muscular legs and a huge head shaped like a United Parcel Service delivery truck. The hound appeared to be smiling at him. Kaspar was a goner. He liked animals but didn’t love them. He was happy to eat them when properly prepared. But in all his days he had never seen a creature like the burly and supremely confident Slab. It really was love at first sight. On the spot he tried to buy the dog from its owner at any price but no go. However he did get the name and telephone number of Slab’s breeder in Texas. Shortly afterwards Kaspar Benn brought home a new roommate-- the formidable looking eight month old gray pit bull named ‘D Train.’ Vanessa said the puppy looked like some underworld creature in PEER GYNT. Dean said it looked like a Samoan.
“Luckily ‘D’ had an exceedingly sunny temperament. Despite looking so fearsome, he pretty much liked the whole world and was delighted to make friends with anyone, two or four legged. The only problem with that was his explosive enthusiasm: If some unsuspecting soul came over to say hello, D Train launched himself at the person, a squat sixty pound missile of airborne enthusiasm and love. Cats or small dogs were no different. Strangers were horrified when this beast catapulted himself like a base jumper off the sidewalk into their chest or onto the back of their panicked pet.
“Kaspar dutifully took his young gray ward to obedience school but that was an amusing bust. D made friends with all the other dogs in his class but never learned to obey even one command.
“You couldn’t blame him though. In his last life, the pit bull had been a zgloz on Oynah, that dreadful place. Anyone familiar with Oynah knew joy came in mighty short supply there. The puppy didn’t know it, but in his new incarnation on earth he was just showing how happy he was to be away from that miasma of misery. At the obedience school Kaspar met an Italian woman who approvingly called D Train “svitato,” which translates as either screwball or unhinged. But as long as words like joyfully or happily were used as its prefix—joyfully svitato-- then Kaspar would live with and figure out how to manage his happy screwball.”
From the new book
"I once knew a woman who liked to imagine Love in the guise of a sturdy dog, one that would always chase down the stick after it was thrown and return with his ears flopping around happily. Completely loyal, completely unconditional. And I laughed at her, because even I knew that love is not like that. Love is a delicate thing that needs to be cosseted and protected. Love is not robust and love is not unyielding. Love can crumble under a few harsh words, or be tossed away with a handful of careless actions. Love isn't a steadfast dog at all; love is more like a pygmy mouse lemur.
"Yes, that's exactly what love is: a tiny, jittery primate with eyes that are permanently peeled open in fear. For those of you who cannot quite picture a pygmy mouse lemur, imagine a miniature Don Knotts or Steve Buscemi wearing a fur coat. Imagine the cutest animal that you can, after it has been squeezed so hard that all its stuffing had been pushed up into the oversized head and its eyes are now popping out in overflow. The lemur looks so vulnerable that one cannot help but worry that a predator might swoop in at any instant to snatch it away."
Andrew Davidson, THE GARGOYLE
People in Austria who are blind or sight impaired wear large yellow armbands with three black dots arranged in a triangle to alert the world that they are handicapped. Passing one of them today, I thought wouldn't it be convenient if others wore color coded bands like that for various "handicaps" or positive qualities. For example, white would mean this person is a son of a bitch-- proceed at your own risk. Orange would connote false friend. All black would indicate this person is fascinating but deeply neurotic, so stay away. Lilac would broadcast here’s someone who talks a good game but in truth is a coward and a liar. Of course there would be color bands for good qualities too. But wouldn't it be helpful and a real time saver if you could tell at a glance whether you wanted to have contact with that stranger or not. Yes, it would take some of the magic and mystery out of life. But to tell you the truth, I'm exhausted and often disheartened by the mysteries I must confront daily and I assume you are too. A few visual aids like this would make living a lot easier.
The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm."
— George Carlin
My friend the SWAT policeman told a funny story. One of his colleagues is a no-nonsense, straight arrow cop who also happens to be physically huge and very scary looking. This man likes nothing more than to pull a car over, scold the driver for breaking the law, and then give them a summons. He prided himself on never letting anyone talk their way out of a ticket, no matter how valid or sad their reason. If you broke the law, you were punished. One day he stopped a car that was flying along way over the speed limit. He climbed slowly and dramatically out of his patrol car and ambled up to the other one, now parked. When he got there he saw that the driver was a very good looking woman. In his best scary-cop voice he said to her, "Why were you speeding? Where's the fire?" The woman looked up at him and immediately said, "Between my legs. Is your hose big enough to put it out?" The cop was so shocked both by her answer and the woman's tone of voice that without another word, he turned right around, got back into his car and drove away.
Every year at this time a pal goes a little crazy and bakes hundreds of Christmas cookies which she then gives away to her friends and co-workers. Each person gets a box that must weigh three pounds. Even if you're a Christmas cookie fanatic, it takes weeks to eat all of them. I got my stash earlier today. Carrying it home under my arm, I bumped into a really raggedy street person who looked like he hadn't had a merry Christmas in one hell of a long time. He asked for money. Instead I spontaneously offered him the box of cookies. He snatched it out of my hands and looked it over suspiciously, as if it were a trick or a ticking bomb about to explode in his face. Satisfied that it was neither, the man asked shyly if he could open the box. Then he asked what was inside. Before I could answer, he opened it and saw the mound of cookies in there. His face transformed. Cookies! he said, almost groaning. Cookies, cookies, cookies. He wouldn't stop saying that word as he reached in, grabbed a huge handful and ate them all at once.
by C. K. Williams
They're at that stage where so much desire streams between them, so much
frank need and want,
so much absorption in the other and the self and the self-admiring entity
and unity they make--
her mouth so full, breast so lifted, head thrown back so far in her laughter
at his laughter,
he so solid, planted, oaky, firm, so resonantly factual in the headiness of
being craved so,
she almost wreathed upon him as they intertwine again, touch again,
cheek, lip, shoulder, brow,
every glance moving toward the sexual, every glance away soaring back in
flame into the sexual--
that just to watch them is to feel again that hitching in the groin, that filling
of the heart,
the old, sore heart, the battered, foundered, faithful heart, snorting again,
stamping in its stall.
Passing a bunch of husky men unloading stuff from a large moving van, I remembered reading a list somewhere that of the ten most stressful events in life, moving house was near the top-- right up there with death and divorce. For the first time it struck me how most every time you see people moving in or out of a place, you're witnessing a paradigm event in their lives. Beginnings and endings. Great happiness or anticipation ("We're moving to Rio!") or at the other end of the scale, failure and fear of a future they never imagined would happen to them but has now arrived. I'm thinking about all those people in the US who are losing their homes because of the mortgage crisis. When we see a moving van or hear someone is giving up their flat we usually shrug or ignore it. But the reality is in one way or the other, lives are about to change profoundly. You've experienced it yourself whenever you've moved. Almost every van we see represents some kind of intense human drama.
It's always interesting to watch deaf or hearing impaired people conversing using hand language. Almost without exception, their faces are incredibly animated and *involved* in whatever it is they are discussing. It doesn't matter whether it is the speaker or the listener-- everyone in that conversation is fully immersed in it. Contrast that to people talking to one another who can hear. Just the expression on their faces tells you how frequently distracted or detached they are from what's being said. The next time you see people signing to each other, look at their faces and body language. Then shift your glance anywhere others are having a spoken conversation. What a difference. I don't know if it means the deaf participate more fully because of their handicap, or simply because they are better conversationalists.
One evening in the beginning of the relationship when they were getting to know each other and had written back and forth several times, he asked her to take a digital picture of herself right at that moment and email it to him. Surprised, she asked why? He wrote back--Spontaneity, no posed stuff, I'd just like to know what you look like right now, this minute. She responded But I still don't understand why. What if I asked you to do the same thing? In minutes she had a picture of him unshaven and grinning, wearing a white tee shirt from Canter's Delicatessen in LA. It was a nice picture, sort of cute and funny. Dutifully, she took a bad photograph of herself and emailed it to him. She didn't like doing it but wasn't sure why; it felt like a violation of some sort. As if she were half dressed and he’d come up behind without her knowing until he was there.
AV sent this poem in. A tip of the hat to her.
by Maya Stein
“You have to make an alliance with your anguish,” he said,
“not wage war against it.” And I thought of all the fists
I had shaken at misfortune: games lost
because the shot clock ran out,
a good meal scorched in a forgotten oven,
money dropped on a dress worn only once,
the bully in 6th grade, the math test in 9th,
the wrong outfit at Halloween.
But of course, this isn’t what he meant.
If I were brave enough, I’d tell you how my heart
has raged for love, stretched thin as a high wire.
If I were brave enough, I’d tell you
how my body has been fighting to stay upright
on every precipitous downhill the city
throws at it. If I were brave enough,
I’d climb into your lap and weep with longing.
All I can say is that any attempt at beauty and hope
is land-mined with failure.
And so the perilous track-making begins.
Wending our way through,
there are possible clutches at sunlight, at windows, at yes.
We are each of us inches from death.
We are each of us inches from life.
We are each of us inches from one another.
Art is often best when it is unintended. A masterfully simple Biedermeier desk, the futuristic Parker 51 fountain pen, Bauhaus woven cloth, Japanese wabi sabi objects, Dieter Rams’ appliances for BRAUN, or the Gill Sans type font, things like these were expressly conceived to be used every day and not live out their years in a museum. But they were so exceptional or singular that over time they rode the elevator up to art’s top floor and stayed there. So too with photography. Whether it be Weegee or Vivian Mayer’s black and white pictures of 1940’s NY, Lartigue and Doisneau’s day to day in Paris, LIFE magazine’s coverage of the Great Depression, or even the best accidental Lomography work, what most people first thought were merely snapshots grew wings over the years and now live among the angels of art. One of my favorite books of 2009 is called CROOKS LIKE US by Peter Doyle. Doyle is an Australian who went through the forensic photography archive of the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney. His book is essentially a collection of 1920’s mugshots. Black and white look-the-camera-right-in-the-eye photos of criminals who were caught and booked. Pickpockets, whores, grifters, murderers, small time losers, dope fiends, counterfeiters… all were arrested and momentarily memorialized with one straight on and one profile picture before going to trial. The astonishing thing about the compilation is both the unintentional beauty and composition of many of these photos. A friend who saw the book said most of the subjects look like they’re either Thom Browne models or people you’d see in a GQ or VOGUE fashion spread. The men wear fedora hats tipped at jaunty angles, formal white shirts and ties, sharp looking tweed. Although some are seriously scary looking hombres, they’ve almost all got style and flair like you can’t believe. If you saw one of these guys walking down the street today you’d think “that is one cool dude.” The women stare straight and fearlessly into the camera. You can almost hear them sneering “You gotta problem, pal? What are you gawking at?” They emanate strength, smartass, sexuality, street smarts, and in some, great mystery. Picture after dramatic picture of liars, cheats, steal from blind nuns, stab their mother, sell their children-- creeps, bottom feeders, perverts and monsters are transformed by simple police mugshots into gorgeous, haunting, timeless portraits. Their eyes tell a thousand stories. Hands in pockets, posture proud and erect, hair slicked carefully back, their expressions are defiant, amused. You can’t beat them—in the end, they know they’ll win. Almost a hundred years later you’re certain these crooks knew things you wish you could learn. Characters whose lives you’d give a lot to know more about beyond that single, captivating glimpse. At some point the jarring realization hits you that every single person in the book is probably dead now. But that is one of the wonders of great art—it can resurrect anything and make it so alive again that for a while you can almost hear it breathe.
Decades ago when I had him as a student he was all long hair-angry--fuck the system, Che Guevara t-shirts, a very good guitarist in a band, sunglasses on in class, smartass remarks about everything... that kind of kid. But we always got along fine and I liked him. Vienna is small so over the years we've run into each other now and then. Today I saw a man walking down the street toward me in a conservative blue suit, white shirt, black tie, briefcase, very short haircut. I glanced at him but then away because he was just another suit. But as we got closer he said "Jonathan!" and I realized who it was behind all that correct middle class look. We shook hands and chatted a while. He's selling insurance now, not married but there’s a long time girlfriend, a new apartment, he still plays guitar now and then, blah blah. I asked if he was happy. Half shrugging he said sheepishly, "I'm just a well behaved middle class guy now." Looking him hard in the eye I said "Steve, you'll *never* be a middle class guy." He smiled like he'd won the lottery.
There are certain words that usually make me cringe when I hear or read them. One of those words is "deserved." I once read a profile of a photographer who was very famous in the 1970's and 80's. At the peak of his success he ruined everything by taking drugs. But eventually he got hold of himself, cleaned up, and went back to photography. The profile was written because he was having his first major show in years. The line I vividly remember him saying was, "I deserve the acclaim I'm getting now because of the hell I've been through in the last decade." Soon after the show was over he dropped dead. When people say things like, "They deserve their good fortune (or bad) because of this or that" I always want to ask, "How do you know what people *deserve*? Have you figured things out? If so, would you please tell me because I keep getting it wrong."
One day in the English office some teachers were sitting around discussing the different ways we taught TS Eliot's great poem, THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK. Halfway through our rambling interesting conversation, another colleague came in to the room. After listening for a while she said our approaches were wrong because THIS is what the poem is about and the only thing you need to do is convey that concept interestingly to students. I said to the woman you sound like a fascist-- there's no ONE interpretation of a poem. You can't say it's only about THIS. Kids hate it when you do that-- it takes away all the fun of reading and discussing. This teacher didn't agree. Our discussion quickly turned heated and ugly. I was reminded of this today when someone sent me a blog they'd seen that interpreted a passage in a book I wrote years ago. I recognized the passage but the blogger's view of what it meant was completely different from what I intended when I wrote it. Night and day different. My first knee jerk reaction was wow, they got THAT wrong. But then remembering that long ago "Prufrock" discussion, I grimaced thinking how we all have the potential to be instant literary fascists when someone interprets words on a page (or life in general) differently from the way we do.
He was winter to her. Whenever she thought of their relationship everything was framed in winter-- hot drinks, heavy sweaters, their breaths white together on the frigid air when they took their walks. They had been together in the summer too, but he wasn't summer to her. He was always winter. It made her think we assign people-- lovers especially-- seasons in our minds. She told a girlfriend this and the other gushed back immediately, "Yes! I know exactly what you mean. I've been married so long but still always think of Ted against a summer background. Wearing shorts and t-shirts, eating ice cream, or on a beach together playing with the kids... Never in winter. I never picture him in a big coat or gloves or anything. Why do you think we do that-- give people seasons?"
In the Nike shop, they're selling "limited edition" replicas of famous soccer team jerseys. 100 euro for a rayon shirt in a snazzy box. We live in the era of limited editions, whether it be soccer jerseys, sneakers, cell phones, cars, Coca Cola bottles, mp3 players... You name it. I've been thinking about what that means but I can't figure it out. Is it because everyone wants to be individual, special, and by owning a limited edition that makes you separate from the rest of the pack? Or is it just prestige-- Owning this 'rare' object means by association I'm rich, powerful, unique... But when so many things come in limited editions ( I recently bought a pair of cheap khakis that turned out to be a 'limited edition.' I didn't even know that until I read the label as I was cutting it off) doesn't that negate the whole idea of specialness? Or the brilliant ripoff copies of things like Vuitton bags which even the experts say are so close to the originals that only they can tell the differences? How exclusive is an object when the world believes it’s a fake, although it’s not. Since I live near a busy shopping street, every day I see teenage girls carrying Vuitton handbags which, if they were real, would cost thousands of dollars. So like most people I just assume they’re fakes but some of them probably are the real thing.
Isn't it interesting how many of us will spend a lot of money on clothes (or for that matter, other valued possessions) we rarely use-- that beautiful cocktail dress or sharp looking shirt. But in our every day, we much prefer to wear clothes that are years old, beat up, and probably cost little when we bought them. Yes, the comfort factor plays heavily into this, but recently when I came home wearing a very nice suit and tie and couldn't WAIT to tear them off and change into some old jeans and a ten year old sweatshirt, I suddenly thought something's odd about this. An expensive suit, or a fountain pen you only use to write your name occasionally, a new car you're often worried about driving because someone might scratch it, the crazy-expensive shoes you never wear in bad weather, the fabulously delicate silk lingerie you haven't worn since buying it six months ago... the list is surprisingly long. In other words for many, we continue to pay lots of money for things that make us uncomfortable, worried, wary or worse.
It's pretty hard to improve on the wonderfulness of a ripping summer thunderstorm, but last September I witnessed an example. The storm came in quickly although you knew about fifteen minutes before it hit that those galloping dark clouds would have something loud to say when they arrived. I was working at my desk when the storm broke and the only reason I looked up was because open windows started flapping in the wind. Then came the screams. Before standing up I listened carefully a few seconds because although they were high and many, they didn't sound scared or distressed; just a lot of jubilant screaming. When I went to close windows, the storm really got rocking-- horizontal rain, furious wind, raindrops the size of golf balls verging on hale. As I walked around the apartment shutting windows, I finally saw where all this noise came from: a school class of eight or nine year olds was down on the sidewalk with their teacher waiting for the stoplight to change. All of them were absolutely positively utterly *drenched.* Their school is nearby and what had obviously happened was while out on a class trip, the group got caught in the storm just as they were walking back. The wonderful part was all of these children were dancing, every single one of them. I mean really- going- nuts- boogey'ing. And if not dancing, jumping jumping jumping in utter ecstasy as they got soaked. All the kids had given up trying to stay dry which was impossible anyway in that downpour. They were just getting soaked as hell while standing at the traffic light, loving it and showing their love as only kids can do-- dancing wildly and shouting with top- of- their- lungs joy. I couldn't even distinguish which ones were their teachers because the rain was coming down so hard. It's been years since I saw that much happiness exploding at the same time.
What the Dark-Eyed Angel Knows
by Eleanor Lerman
A man is begging on his knees in the subway. Six-thirty
in the morning and already we are being presented with
moral choices as we rocket along the old rails, through the
old tunnels between Queens and Manhattan. Soon angels
will come crashing through the ceiling, wailing in the voices
of the castrati: Won't you give this pauper bread or money?
And a monster hurricane is coming: we all heard about it
on the radio at dawn. By nightfall, drowned hogs will be
floating like poisoned soap bubbles on the tributaries
of every Southern river. Children will be orphaned and
the infrastructure of whole cities will be overturned. No one
on the East Coast will be able to make a phone call and we
will be boiling our water for days. And of course there are
the serial killers. And the Crips and the Bloods. And the
arguments about bilingual education. And the fact that all
the clothing made by slave labor overseas is not only the
product of an evil system but maybe worse, never even fits
so why is it that all I can think of (and will think of through
the torrential rains to come and the howling night) is
you, sighing so deeply in the darkness, you and the smell
of you and the windswept curve of your cheek? If this
train ever stops, I will ask that dark-eyed angel, the one
who hasn't spoken yet. He looks like he might know
I read a wonderful long interview with Thomas Keller, who many consider the greatest chef in the world. Below is an excerpt where he talks about mastering the art of cooking. Halfway through reading the passage I realized everything he was saying could easily apply to almost any job in life, including writing.
Repetition is the mother of perfection. If there is true perfection, it's about doing something over and over again. I truly think that if somebody does a recipe they've never done before and gets it right, they're probably more lucky than they are talented. When you do a dish over and over again, getting to know the nuances of how something reacts, something cooks, something smells, something tastes, the way it sounds -- all those different things become familiar to you as you go through the repetition process. Even making a pasta dough over and over again -- it becomes second-nature to you. You get a real comfort level that can be liberating: you're not really thinking about it that much anymore.
They talk about muscle memory in sports. I don't know if there's muscle memory in cooking, but certainly there's a similar feeling or sensation. All your senses are tuned into those dishes, and you know the way they should sound, the way they should look, the way they should smell, the way they should feel at different times throughout the process of cooking that dish. When you know that, then you know how to cook it.
When you think about what a chef does and what makes a chef so good at his trade -- or anybody at their trade, for that matter, whether it's a chef, a surgeon, a plumber -- you realize that he does these things over and over and over again, day in and day out. We're not always doing new things. We're working on the same basis, the same foundation, the same fundamentals, and we do it over and over and over again. That's how we become good. That's how I became a good chef, because I'm a person that likes repetition. I like to do things over and over. I find a comfort in that.
For the first time in her life, adult Danielle realized it is all of our selves that have lived up until this moment that decide what we do: not only the me who is living right now.
And there is no saying which one of those selves will prevail.
Out of that revelation grew the second one: *all* of our selves-- past and present-- determine what we do every minute of our lives.
Danielle Voyles did not start stealing when she was twelve. She started stealing when her six-year-old self ordered her twelve-year-old self to do it.
Having realized these things, her hands began to shake. She was twenty-nine. She'd had a so-so life. Some of it had been her doing, some not. But how much of her mediocre life had happened the way it did because the wrong Danielles had made the wrong decisions? How many times should the final decider have been younger or older, more cynical or more trusting, than the one who'd had the last say?
Of course six-year-old Danielle was still alive in the twelve- year- old. She was alive in the twenty-nine-year-old too. The six-year-old was part of her history, one of the first rings of the Danielle Voyles "tree." But what the adult had never known until this minute was that child not only continued living inside, but she also played a significant role at least once in determining her later destiny.
from THE GHOST IN LOVE