"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."
He was grinning when he sat down, as if something wonderful had just happened. Apparently it had. "I've just solved the secret of my marriage. Paper towels." He announced.
I looked at him the way you're supposed to when someone sounds vaguely insane. "Paper towels are the secret to your marriage?"
"Yes. Ann (his wife) has a thing for paper towels. She uses them like crazy on everything and basically refuses to use dishtowels or anything else in the kitchen. For years I've been saying to her 'Why don't you save some trees and use less of them?' In other ways she's very good about recycling and really cares about the environment, but not with paper towels. With them she's a lunatic."
I waited for him to continue, not knowing where this was going.
"For years we've been arguing about this absurd subject. Never major fights, but low burner stuff. I tell her it's not the paper towels, it's the waste. She listens every time and then completely ignores me. It's a ridiculous little thing I know, but it has always irritated me and she knows it.
"Anyway, the other night before dinner she washed her hands at the sink and tore some paper towels off the roll on the counter. Right next to them were hand towels I had just washed and stacked there. I put them exactly in that spot so she'd use them and not the paper ones. As usual though she ignored them and did what she always did-- reached for the paper. I was going to spout off about it for the 80th time when all of a sudden I had an epiphany. A light came on in my head and I thought "Just let her have her paper towels. Stop being an idiot about this and let her use all the #$%& paper towels she wants until her last day on earth."
A second later I said exactly that to her. She grew a smile on her face as big as the sun; it was huge. She came across the kitchen and hugged me. That happened a week ago. Today she said, "I can't tell you how that silly little thing made me love you more. I keep thinking about it. You just said to yourself that's who she is, no matter how weird or eccentric, ignore it. I'm going to leave her alone about it from now on. Let her be who she is. I really love you for that."
He reached into the bag he had brought to the table and showed me what was inside: Paper towels.
from a friend:
The other day I was driving by some 20-somethings in the street. It looked like one of them had been given a surprise (a gift or good news or just seen a friend they hadn't expected to see). He was so excited that he hopped up and then did a dance that I've only seen dogs do when they get excited; namely turn around on themselves in a circle, wagging their backsides. it was amazingly endearing, and I wondered why we didn't express our excitement in more bodily ways.
"In moments of joy
all of us wish we possessed
a tail we could wag."
some old thoughts on New Year's resolutions:
Let's face it, New Year's resolutions are venomous things. You make them, you break them, you feel lousy, you forget them. But if your bent is masochism and you insist, I recommend reasonable things that are not hard to accomplish: This year I resolve not to drink furniture polish. I resolve to give away all my patent leather. I resolve to pet as many dogs as will permit me.
I once resolved to give up cigarettes but then realized they were one of my oldest friends. As one grows older, we need all the friends we can get so forget that resolution. Likewise drinking. I have never liked to drink so I don't, but I refused to give it up on numerous occasions for a New Year's resolution because who knows -- one day drinking might come in handy and then where would I be? You have to be careful about these things -- life is long and pleasure is short and too often life wins.
If a gun were pointed at my head today and the man in the black cape announced, "Make a resolution or die!" I would grudgingly say, "This year I will try to be kinder, more patient, and as generous as a baby with a cookie."
The problem with resolutions is we know ourselves pretty well and know if we ain't doing it now, we probably won't begin on January 1st. I guess the best thing to do is start in immediately but make no promises to yourself or anyone else. Certainly not out loud. We can make lists and resolutions all day long but the doing is what matters and that can begin any day.
Why do you so often see men pulling up their pants when they walk out of restaurants?
The Western world seems to be divided between women who carry huge, absolutely packed bags or purses,
and women who carry tiny ones that appear to contain nothing other than one or two credit cards.
On someone's recommendation, a friend went to a fortune teller to hear what their future held. Disconcertingly, the fortune teller was 100% correct about certain things, absolutely wrong about others. Their correct predictions were so precise but unlikely to happen that it was genuinely amazing when they did. My friend went to the person who had recommended this fortune teller and told them what went on. The other person said yes I know, and that's why I don't go anymore. Every reading was the same experience--half of what they told me came true. But the other half was totally wrong. Because I never knew which was going to happen and which was a bunch of nonsense, it started to make me crazy. Now that I've had the experience, I realized I'd rather not know anything.
(origami dragon that took 40 hours to fold)
Two people almost bump into each other coming around separate corners on the sidewalk. The woman is heavy, expensively dressed and made up. Her perfect hairdo gives you to believe she just came from the hairdresser. The man is more sloppy. He's in jeans, sneakers, and a ski parka that's seen better days. For a moment they stand unmoving, close to each other, waiting to see who's going to move first and give ground. The woman's stare is steely and arrogant. She's used to getting what she wants. The man has jumpy shy eyes. With some effort and a very bad limp, he gets out of her way. Without looking at her again, he hobbles up the street. Seeing him move it is obvious that something is very wrong with his leg. He is almost crippled. The woman recognizes this. For a moment her face falls into total shame. She obviously feels awful for having stared him down and making him move aside. But then she sees me looking at her. Her face immediately goes right back to what it was before-- cold, haughty, superior.
Baby I want scary kisses
I want hits and I want misses
I want hell I want bliss - and all that soars between it
And if you give me safely, in a short time I'll be driven crazy
I would rather run and fall, than take no chance at all
I would rather sit here by myself than settle down
With someone safe and sound
I kind of like trouble every now and then
Someone with nerve to break ground
You take a look for me - I'll take a look for you
We'll find that it's not so bad it's just new
Let's stir things up a bit, throw the pieces up to the sky
And if we break or if we bruise, it won't be the worst of news
We will just get up again - start over on the count of ten
And if we scar of if we break, it'll be our own mistake
Put it down to what we know, then have another go
And take it on the chin and just begin again
Run your finger through the flame and I will do the same
Together we will fall, together we will rise, together we
Will do everything but compromise...
"Scary Kisses" by VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE
A PITY, WE WERE SUCH A GOOD INVENTION
Your thighs off my hips,
As far as I am concerned
They are all surgeons. All of them.
They dismantle us
Each from the other.
As far as I am concerned
They are all engineers. All of them
A pity. We were such a good
and loving invention.
An airplane, made from a man and a wife.
Wings and everything,
We hovered a little above the earth.
We even flew a little.
a good one from ON:
You know that feeling you have some mornings when first getting out of bed: your eyes are sort of blurry, joints ache, you're so stiff that you can barely bend over, etcetera? You're not sick though-- just a bundle of sleepy knots, your whole system feels like it needs oiling, and all you can do is yawn for the first ten minutes as you get ready to meet the day. I had that feeling last night when I tentatively began a new book. Unlike some writers, that's never been a big thing for me. The horror of the first blank page, the search for the "mot juste" as the French call it, etcetera. I've read about others experiencing that stuff. But I write for a living so when it's time to start a new book, I find a pen and start. That doesn't mean the first words are any good or I end up going anywhere with them. But I don't superstitiously go out and buy a new Montblanc fountain pen each time as the playwright Athol Fugard used to do (and then retire the pen after the play had been written), a new swanky notebook, or a bottle of rare ink secretly mixed by an order of monks in the Carpathian mountains. I pick up a pen, the nearest paper (usually scrap) and just get to work. But last night I felt as stiff and grumpy at it as if I'd just woken up one of those mornings when all you want to do is leap back into bed and pull the covers over your head. I had my first sentence, a picture in mind of who said it and where they were, but the rest was just bad mood slow going. When I was done, I looked at those first scribbles on the paper and spontaneously said out loud "Are we going to be friends or what?"
Recently a friend who is an artist received a letter from someone they knew decades ago, saying they had a bunch of paintings and drawings this artist had asked them to hold thirty years ago. They were moving now and after all this time wanted to return the work to the artist. Arrangements were made and for quite a bit of money, the work was packed up and sent. The box arrived but suddenly the artist didn't want to open it. She was afraid of what she would find inside. What if that early work was terrible or completely disappointing? She had such good memories of that time. Glowing happy memories of a young earnest artist starting out, sure of both their way and of what they were doing. After a week of looking apprehensively at the box, she finally opened it. The work inside was worse than she feared. Not only was it badly done, but unimaginative. derivative and lifeless. She called me and described what had happened. I said you should look at it as if you were looking at photographs of yourself in an old photo album. Those pics of 20 year old you wearing silly bell bottom pants and a terrible haircut. Look at that young person's work and be pleased with how far you've come since, etcetera. She listened and said yes yes, but you don't understand: I'm so disappointed with that *person*. In my memory, she was so much cooler and more talented than these pictures show.
A must see from GB:
The actor Mark Ruffalo on working with different directors:
'The way I see it is, you enter into someone else's world as an actor. You can put your expectations aside and have an experience that's new and pushes and changes you, or hold onto what you think it should be and have a stubborn, immovable journey that's filled with disappointment and anger.'
What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite ... ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.
Rudy Giuliani starts to talk about fear. His audience listens patiently, but are most likely unaware that he is quoting the words of his father. As Harold Giuliani lay dying of cancer, Rudy asked if he was ever afraid in his life. His father replied with what would be his last words to his son: 'Always. Courage is being afraid but then doing what you have to do anyway.'
Now Giuliani is preaching those poignant words back to the audience of entranced executives. 'Because you have fear it does not make you a coward or a non-courageous person... We should be afraid, but the real question is what we do with that fear,' he tells them.
from an article in the GUARDIAN newspaper
A little late for Valentine's Day, but always useful:
"Writing a novel is similar to what goes on in a kebab shop: you carve bits of yourself away and present them in envelopes of pita bread. The lettuce and the tomato and the hot sauce are style."
"Oneiric." I came across this word two times last week so I looked it up. "Of or relating to dreams. Dreamy." All writers like language. They have to-- words are the tools of our trade and like carpenters, we are always interested in the latest, most effective tools. But what I still don't understand after all these years is using words like oneiric when you can just as easily and more understandably use dreamy to the same effect. It's impressive having a large vocabulary where one can throw 5 syllable or deliciously obscure words into conversation like a high roller impressively slapping down crisp $100 bills on the table to pay for drinks. The only problem being few people know what these words mean, so using them is frequently counterproductive. If you use them in your writing, you're all but demanding that a good attentive reader put down your book, find a dictionary, and look the word up so that they know exactly what you're talking about. When I was teaching writing, often the best students were so smitten by "ten dollar" words that they'd use them every chance they got in their stories. When we read these stories in class upon bumping into an "oneiric," or "casuistry," or "profligate apostasy," I'd stop the reader and ask for a show of hands of how many kids in the room knew what that word meant. When no one raised their hand, I'd look at the writer, raise my eyebrows questioningly and shrug. More often than not, they got the point. One particularly brilliant student however refused to stop using them so we talked about it. She said she liked precision and these words gave her that. I said your writing is not going to be precise if only a small percentage of your readers know what you are saying.
"Are those your tears
running down my cheeks?
Is that your breath
playing with my hair?
Is that your love
running through my veins?
How can it be?
How can it be?
"Is this your song
coming through my mouth?
Is that your voice
playing with my heart?
How can it be?
This moment is
so full of you
so full of you."
from the song "Is That You?" by Rebekka Bakken
Happy Valentine's Day everyone. May your faces be full of kisses by this evening.
and just in, a great Valentine's story:
"Robert Louis Stevenson was passing by the window of a house one night in France when he looked inside and fell instantly in love with a woman he saw eating dinner with a group of her friends. Stevenson stared at her for what seemed like hours, and then opened the window and leapt inside. The guests were shocked, but Stevenson just bowed and introduced himself. The woman was an American named Fanny Osborne. They fell in love and got married a few years later."
She was describing a friend of hers who I immediately thought would make a wonderful character either in a book or movie. The man is a well known doctor, a specialist who works in one of Vienna's most prestigious hospitals. He's a particularly good doctor, one of those rare ones who is so adept at what he does that people from all over the world seek him out. But he has a secret-- he fervently believes in angels, ghosts, other worlds, etcetera. Professionally he keeps the two things completely separate and never talks about the esoteric with either his colleagues or his patients. But to his friends he is very open about it. Recently my friend told him that she was having trouble sleeping. He casually said you must change your sleeping position because you're being affected by bad spirits, etcetera. What a fascinating and obviously complex guy he must be. I wonder if he ever comforts his dying patients with quiet talk about what he believes comes next...
"A Chinese farmer invented the idea of ghosts three thousand years ago as a way of explaining to his precocious grandson what happens to people after they die. God thought it was such a novel and useful idea that He told his angels to make the concept real and allow it to flourish within the system. In honor of the inventor, ghosts always have Chinese names and this one was no exception. Ling was called Ling only because that was the next name on the list at the time it was created."
from THE GHOST IN LOVE
"It's the writing that's hard, not the invention."
"All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal... With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not."
Here's a neat alternative for sending your sweetie a valentine:
The weather in Vienna this winter has been very strange, as I guess is true in much of the world. Almost no snow, often weirdly warm and windy. The kind of weather that gives you a headache and makes your heart beat too fast. The comedian Lewis Black says "This isn't weather-- it's malaria!" What's interesting is how it makes different people dress. Out on the street you see some bundled up in heavy winter wear like cocoons. But other people are wearing t- shirts, thin pants, and sneakers as if high spring has already arrived. Sometimes both on the same day. I often find myself seeing these two extremes and then wondering which dresser is correct; As if I don't know myself if I've put on the right clothes today.
"Never say you know the last word about any human heart."
It just dawned on me that Valentine's Day is next week so I went burrowing for something appropriate and came up with this good one:
by Wendy Cope
My heart has made its mind up
And I'm afraid it's you.
Whatever you've got lined up,
My heart has made its mind up
And if you can't be signed up
This year, next year will do.
My heart has made its mind up
And I'm afraid its you.
and for those of you who have good reason to be grumpy on that day, here's another one by the same poet:
Bloody men are like bloody buses--
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
offering you a ride.
You're trying to read their destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
while the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.
"He who cannot dance will say:The drum is bad."
"Thought breaks the heart"
"Even over cold pudding the coward says: "It will burn my mouth."
"He who has done evil, expects evil."
"The heart is not a knee that can be bent."
The Blind Leading the Blind
by Lisel Mueller
Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light.
Birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.
It has always intrigued me how the ingredients for a new novel evolve. The title usually swims to the surface first. OUTSIDE THE DOG MUSEUM was a variation on the German title of a turn of the century photograph of a circus midway in Dusseldorf I once saw in a photo magazine. FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS came from mishearing a lyric in a John Hiatt song. WHITE APPLES was plucked from a line in a poem by the Russian Yesenin. Things like that. While walking the dog last summer, I saw a child's chalk drawing on the ground in a park. A large horse with a small white house perched on its butt. Just that. Because I was bored, I started playing with the wording. House on a horse. The horse's house. Eventually a variation of that sentence came to mind and I knew immediately that it would be the title of my next book. I had no idea what it meant and still don't, but that was definitely the title. Some time later I wrote this down in a notebook and knew it would be the first line of that book : "Most men think they are good drivers. Most women think they are good in bed. They're wrong." More things came-- a lonely man sledding by himself in winter, the metaphor of a Trojan Horse, etc-- and slowly slowly the disparate images and ideas begin to coalesce and take shape. I have no idea what that shape will end up being, but while doing nothing in this fallow period after finishing THE GHOST IN LOVE, I can already feel the pieces gathering like those science demonstration films you see in school about how a magnet attracts iron filings.
The ball season has begun in Vienna. As usual, highlights from many of them are featured on TV. Inevitably with all the coverage there's mention of some balls that you never knew existed-- the pastry chef's ball, the hunter's ball, the electrician's ball... My favorite so far this year has been the weightlifter's ball. Instead of being held in one of the many palaces around town, this one was in a gasthaus at the Prater, the giant amusement park made famous in the film THE THIRD MAN. Besides the usual dancing and eating, the special highlight of this fest was a weight lifting contest. In the middle of the dance floor they set up a special stage where both men and women-- hobby weighlifters, they call themselves-- bench pressed and dead lifted and squatted... to the cheers and whistles of their fellow revellers. Waltzing and weighlifting on the same dance floor in one night. Only in Vienna.
"Joseph Conrad once wrote that his purpose as a novelist was simply "to make you see." According to Viktor Shklovsky -- the influential Russian formalist critic of the 1920s and '30s -- our daily, automatic routines leach all the freshness from existence, so that we no longer experience the wonder of the people and life around us. Art's purpose, consequently, is to "defamiliarize" the familiar, to shake up our dulled perceptions, to reinvest the dingy, gray and arthritic universe with richness, color, vitality.
According to Milan Kundera's similar literary theory of "the curtain," we grow up with cultural preconceptions that "pre-interpret" the world and close off various aspects of experience. He writes that "a magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world. Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose." Ever since, the true novelist's ambition "is not to do something better than his predecessors but to see what they did not see, say what they did not say."
Michael Dirda, THE WASHINGTON POST Book Review 2.3.2007
It takes me a while to grasp that many patients in the hospital are very fashion conscious. Of course there are the typicals in their scruffy pajamas and wrinkled white robes, slumphing along the corridors in sad silent slippers. But a surprising number of people are also really dolled up-- in pajamas and robes. A woman walks by so beautifully attired that a moment passes before I realize she is dressed for bed. Her robe looks like it is made of fawn colored suede with matching suede slippers. Her perfect hair like she just left the beauty parlor. How does she keep it like that after lying in bed all day? A gent walks by looking exactly like Ronald Colman in a suave 1930's movie. Cranberry red robe, silk pajamas, and black hair gelled back. He could just as well be going to the casino as to having a colonoscopy. I'm watching everyone closely now and it seems about evenly split between the patients who see themselves as fashion plates even here in the oppressive hospital halls, and those who plod anonymously along, blank faced from one examination to the other.
"Seven centuries ago, there were Christian religious fanatics in Europe who demanded that all women must cover their ears. Why? Because the Virgin Mary had been inseminated through that part of her body by the Holy Spirit. The fanatics feared that other women might be susceptible to the influx of invisible ear-penetrating entities that weren't so benevolent."
"The famous chef Alice Waters once observed that in her experience, you can tell whether a chef is a man or a woman by looking at your plate: a man builds a tower, a woman makes a nest."