Tastier than old wine,
sweeter than the passing of winecups
is the play of swords and lances,
the clash of armies at my command.
To face death in battle is my life,
for life is what fulfills the soul.
"In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door, a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of maniac confusion, yet unity; singing, screaming, a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away! And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and circuits cracked."
— There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
"When they asked me afterwards, I estimated it was about four hours. Four hours of hypnotized survival, doomed optimism that these ten, maybe fifteen-foot waves, this cold and exhaustion, couldn’t go on forever…"
— Aria by Susan Segal
babe what highway are you on now?
north south east
how is the wind the sun the smell of earth?
how does it feel under your shoes?
have you eaten?
"I am thinking of the dancing body’s magnificent and ostentatious scorn. This is how we offer ourselves, enter heaven, enter speaking: we say with motion, in space, This is what life’s done so far down here; this is all and what and everything it’s managed–this body, these bodies, that body–so what do you think, Heaven? What do you fucking think?"
— Dance in America by Lorrie Moore
"I meet a person and I’m thinking three minutes; I give you three minutes to show me the spark."
— Amy Hempel
"No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure. Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself-as I know you already have-in dark places, alone, and afraid.
What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.
I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country. Why did we look up for blessing-instead of around, or down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourished, where human beings grown human souls."
— Ursula K. LeGuin addressing the 1983 graduating class of Mills College in Oakland, California
"It’s all about redemption."
— My High School Latin Teacher
Down in the Swamps
It’s surprising how little time one can spend outside in the sun in the land of sunshine. Fake air bleeds out of plastic machines and swallows up all the fresh air, all the natural oxygen that sustains life. It’s not just that it swallows it, either, but it consumes it, leaks into it, does not discard it but coalesces with it so you can never have it back the way it was before. And this leaves a startling lack of space between bodies and voices and thoughts that forms a vacuum which comes to a point in the middle of the room or the car. An inevitable closeness of relations, a stripping of the defensive arsenal of timidity, a fire to thaw out the long kept secrets and forgotten stories.
“Love is grand” he sings across his steak and brussels sprouts. The spittle specks of food flying across the table contain tales of Thanksgivings in Hawaii where they serve a great big fish instead of turkey, this back in the 60s when he was still in the army, wife and one kid. Or about crash landing a plane. Or the time she took her grandson to Disney and he went on the wet ride in the middle of a cold rainstorm, so she bought him a sweater and sweatpants. And then he went back on the ride and she bought him another sweater and pair of sweatpants.
I remember once someone asked her “Where’s your wedding ring?” and she, startled and as stumbling across an old friend in the linen closet, said, “Wedding ring?! I don’t know I think I stepped on it years ago. I think I flushed it down the toilet, who knows.” And he said “Listen, you don’t need a wedding ring when you’re in love.”
And when I return home Ma says “Wash all those clothes,” and I ask why but I already know its because it all smells like smoke, but I hold it up to my nose and breathe in and honestly, appreciate the odor woven into my t-shirts. The three meals before noontime. Discussions of books and family and Los Angeles and little cousins and big cousins and news and swamps.
And I swear on my life to you that I do not think Florida had swamps before they began living there. That’s a whole lot of life, you know? Gators and herons and all that flora and fauna and all those insects and fish and everything! Well, I think that all that life comes from all that life they contain. All that living they did was planted in South Florida and sprouted and bloomed into an emerald and coal black oasis.
All my life she’s been old. Given, she was only a year or two shy of seventy when I was born, but he air was always elderly. Until a few months ago. And now, on her eighty-eight birthday, she’s at the youngest I’ve ever seen her. As we sit over a lunch of fried haddock and french fries, I can start to imagine what she was once like. For the first time in my life, I imagine what she must have been once like. Sighs have excused themselves in the form of laughter. Commentaries denoting shameful affairs have turned to “well, what can you do?”
Did we ever make eye contact before? Her skin may be pale, blotched, and a victim to gravity but her eyes must be the exact same. Emerald with a swirl of amber wrapped around her pupil like a galaxy. Her body betrays her but her mind is nimble as ever. In fact, judging only by what I saw and heard from her I would say her mind has improved.
Maybe it’s the painting. How many people discover not only a something which starts their fires again, which makes them reacquainted with the world like a newborn, but which they possess a startling talent for, at the age of eighty-five? In a few short years she has amassed a collection of paintings numbering almost a hundred. The senior home has chosen her painting for its Christmas card two years in a row. We walk through the art gallery. “This one’s nice,” someone says, “Humph,” she goes, “She traces!”, “Look at this one,” she continues, looking at more of the woman’s work, “Look at it! It’s stupid!” Someone else, “This woman does a pretty nice job.” And as she moves slowly across the row of paintings with her walker, she shrugs off the idea, “Ha. This woman thinks she shits gold.”
Or maybe it’s the DNR. Do not resuscitate. Back in March, she had some health issues and opted to go DNR if she ever has another heart attack or some other condition. The first time I talked to her on the phone after that it was her voice that came through freely, clearly, swiftly, as if she had been talking through a megaphone stuffed with sand for so many years. There must be some amazing comfort in that decision then. When somebody comments about her approaching the big 9-0 she laughs so that her wrinkles make a firework of her face. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll make it that far.” Perhaps not, perhaps she will go until ninety-one, or even a hundred. But at whichever line the last chapter concludes on, it’s amazing to see someone walk forth not only content with their life, but happy with it. It’s like watching a flower come into bloom one more time after a long winter.
"She lay there resisting death, as he had resisted life. Frozen with resentment of process and change"
— And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
"It is not down in any map; true places never are."
— Herman Melville
The Great Fear and Love of Man
You know, the primary well source of close-mindedness is not hatred nor ignorance but fear. Meanness, otherness, derogatories, stereotypes, and other forms of manipulation comprise a form of self-defense.
When we encounter people, places, values, or rituals that seem contrary to our lives, we shun them, shurg them off as somehow unusual, undeserving, or backwards. We have a natural inclination to want to understand the world around us. We want to believe that we at least have a minimal grasp on everything and in order to maintain this idea we seal out the rest of the world and insulate ourselves within a bubble. This fragile and frail fencework from behind which we watch in fright as the world swirls in variation and confusion cannot hold back the world.
We avoid strangers on the street, we avoid certain neighborhoods, we rarely venture beyond a thirty mile radius of our homes. We see articles in magazines or television shows that depict foreign lands and faces and we take one look and fight to materizalize a degrading and patronizing vocabulary that immediately excuses us from ever having to heed any more attention to these other people in these other places, even if they live next door to us. We avoid love because we fear heartbreak. We avoid adventure because we fear becoming lost. We fear contrary states of humanity because we fear losing all justification within ourselves for the way we live.
Naturally, we become upset when forced to look upon the interior framework of the system and machine which propels our daily lives and routines. We defend ourselves with condescending arsenals of insults, jokes, and an internal prpulgation of hatred and annoyance with all things that rub us the wrong way. It is angering to know we can no longer deny the truth, because if we did, in the midst of such clarity of reality, we would be made foolish and uncredited. And oftentimes our very philosophies and daily lives our founded on these denying these hidden ways, hidden people, hidden places. And once again we are brought to face to sweaty face with that which, at once allowing our existence to occur, sustaining our reality and at once being contrary to everything we believe and that makes us feel secure in the world, we do not wish to concede humanity and legitimacy.
In doing so, in shrinking our worlds and maintaining our narrow-minded binocular-like vision, we feel more secure not only in our homes but in our minds. We feel that we have done right and we are free from irritation and burden of doubt. We stigmatize the rest of the world and everything becomes an outlier. These other people, these other places, these other ideas need to be taken as worthy or valuable, and we may relieve them from any sense of duty or intrigue or challenge we may feel inclined to behold in any natural way. We want to shield ourselves from the complexities of living and every brick we build in the wall against the world, against humanity, is an attempt at simplication. Keep the world out of view and out of mind and off our skins.
I advise against this way of living if you can manage it. And I am quite conifdent in everyone’s ability to manage it. The world is much big and great and though you may try, you cannot keep it out. But see, that is not even the singular reason for which you should embrace it, simply because you cannot keep it out. You will find out the primary reason when the world finally breaks through your stallwork defenses and reaches upon your very skin. You will understand in the moment when you realize you wish you had let the world in sooner rather than later. That your fear, like many fears, could be broken and, also as often with fears, become life’s greatest joys.
Forgive the fearful because we all are in some way or another. I learn from you and I teach you. You teach me and I teach you. Your open mind does not need to be unfiltered. Hold principles and hold them strong, but in everything else free yourself from the cage in which you have entraped yourself. And even if your body stays, let your mind wander. You will not fall in love with everything and everyone, but you will, I assure you, fall in love. And that which you do not love you can come to accept. And yes, the world is complex and enormous and confounding but there is no great fret in not knowing it all or understanding it all. The simple matter is that which you encounter you indulge in, embrace, attempt to know and befriend. When you do this, when you unfurl from your feetle position to feel the world, you will feel all of it, every word, every laugh, every smile, every tear, every death, every tree, every landscape, every mannerism, every manner, every ritual, every human form as you do now a great gust of wind. And like the greatest gusts of all, it wil carry you.
"I must have flowers, always, and always."
— Claude Monet (via wordsonawhitescreen)