Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Natural Causes

Mummified body found in front of blaring TV

Sat Feb 17, 2007 4:15 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police called to a Long Island man's house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set.

The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said on Saturday his body was discovered on Thursday when they were called to the house over a burst water pipe.

"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Newsday quoted morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus as saying. The home's low humidity had preserved the body.

Officials could not explain why the electricity had not been turned off, considering Ricardo had not been heard from since December 2005.

Neighbors said when they had not seen Ricardo, who was diabetic and had been blind for years, they assumed he was in the hospital or a long-term care facility.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Don't Make Me Break It Down for Nothin'

"Hey Ya (Cover)"

He Was a Good Man


You Don't Know Me


Learning to Live with Books

"We are taught one way of reading. Students are told to read the book, then to fill out a form detailing everything they have read. It’s a linear approach that serves to enshrine books. People now come up to me to describe the cultural wounds they suffered at school. ‘You have to read all of Proust.’ They were traumatized...They see culture as a huge wall, as a terrifying specter of ‘knowledge.’ But we intellectuals, who are avid readers, know there are many ways of reading a book. You can skim it, you can start and not finish it, you can look at the index. You learn to live with a book...I want people to learn to live with books. I want to help people organize their own paths through culture. Also those outside the written word, those who are so attached to the image that it’s difficult to bring them back."

- Pierre Bayard, a professor of literature at the Université de Paris VIII, discussing his new book Comment Parler des Livres que l'on n'a pas Lus (How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read) with Alan Riding in The New York Times (2/23/07).

The book was reviewed in the London Times by a reviewer who hadn't read it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Points on the Compass that Matter Most in Fiction

"Sometimes people ask me why so much of my work is set in Northern New England and the answer is actually pretty simple. It’s not merely that this is where I have the great privilege of living. Rather, my books are set in Northern New England because it is a culture in the midst of immense change and transition and those are the points on the compass that matter most in fiction: change, transition, human transformation. Whether it is the environment versus development, home birth versus hospital birth, alternative medicine versus traditional medicine, or all that baggage that we bring to gender and sexual orientation. The small world in which I live is a glorious microcosm for changes occurring across the country and an extraordinary place to explore it in novels and fiction."

- Chris Bohjalian

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Object

The Object
by Alma Luz Villanueva

Settle for
Settle for nothing
Settle for nothing less than
Settle for nothing less than the object of your desire.
Desire. The weight of. The weight of our desire. Then laugh, cry, but laugh more than you cry, and when you hold the world in your hands, love Her.

Monday, February 19, 2007

it may not always be so

it may not always be so; and i say
by E. E. Cummings from Tulips & Chimneys, 1923

it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another's, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;

if this should to be, i say if this should be –
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.

Sonnets / Unrealities XI

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ashes and Snow

Be A Prodigy

"I don't recommend the writing life—at least not the one in which you move around a lot, live alone, and work odd jobs. Swing a gig where you hit the big time quick. Be a prodigy, if your agent can arrange it, and then get yourself banned in Boston. I arrived at the discipline late, at the age of twenty-nine, in part because I needed material, but mostly because I boarded a train called the Romantic Debauchery in the mistaken assumption that it would somehow get me to my destination quicker than the ones marked Hard Work and Paying Attention. Hundreds of wrong trains and many lost years later, I have learned that, despite the jovial public legends, inebriation and lucid expression are at odds with each other. If I am to write with spiritual integrity, I cannnot be a drunken butterfly."

- Poe Ballantine, "501 Minutes to Christ" (The Sun, The Best American Essays 2006)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dos sonetos de amor

In honor of Valentine's Day, here are a couple love sonnets Pablo Neruda wrote for his wife, Matilde Urrutia. These are two of the five sonnets from Cien sonetos de amor (100 Love Sonnets) that Peter Lieberson used in Neruda Songs which he composed for his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.


Si No Fuera Porque Tus Ojos Tienen Color De Luna

If your eyes were not the color of the moon,
of a day full of clay, and work, and fire,
if even held-in you did not move in agile grace like the air,
if you were not an amber week,

not the yellow moment
when autumn climbs up throught the vines;
if you were not that bread the fragrant moon
kneads, sprinkling its flour across the sky,

oh, my dearest, I could not love you so!
but when I hold you I hold everything that is—
sand, time, the tree of the rain,

everything is alive so that I can be alive:
without moving I can see it all:
in your life I see everything that lives.


Ya Eres Mía. Reposa Con Tu Sueño En Mi Sueño.

And now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my
Love and pain and work should all sleep, now.
The night turns on its invisible wheels,
and you are pure beside me as a sleeping amber.

No one else, Love, will sleep in my dreams. You will go,
we will go together, over the waters of time.
No one else will travel through the shadows with me,
Only you, evergreen, ever sun, ever moon.

Your hands have already opened their delicate fists
and let their soft drifting signs drop away;
your eyes closed like two gray wings, and I move

after, following the folding water you carry, that carries
me away. The night, the world, the wind spin out their destiny.
Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quit Whining

From an essay titled Writers, Quit Whining by Garrison Keillor for Salon.com, May 3, 2006:

...I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and almost impossible it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day.

...The biggest whiners are the writers who get prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that's painful to read, and so they accumulate long résumés and few readers and wind up teaching in universities where they inflict their gloomy pretensions on the young. Writers who write for a living don't complain about the difficulty of it. It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it?

The truth, young people, is that writing is no more difficult than building a house, and the only good reason to complain is to discourage younger and more talented writers from climbing on the gravy train and pushing you off.

Young people are pessimistic enough these days without their elders complaining about things. Shut up. Life is pretty good when you grow up. You own your own car, you go where you like, and you sing along with the radio or talk to yourself or chat on your cellphone. You pull into the drive-up window and order the Oreo Blizzard. What's not to like?

Monday, February 12, 2007

We Must Risk Delight

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

- Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven

The First Ones

"Seven actors talk about the movies that made early impressions on them. A short film by Jake Paltrow for the New York Times Magazine."

Eliminative Materialism

The work of Paul and Patricia Churchland is described in an interesting article in the Feb. 12 issue of The New Yorker (the article by Larissa MacFarquhar isn't available online) in which the neurophilosopher couple describe an approach to the philosophy of mind which asserts that there is good reason to discard most of the psychological concepts which have made it into our contemporary vocabulary.

"Gradually, Pat and Paul arrived at various shared notions about what philosophy was and ought to be. They agreed that it should not keep itself pure: a philosphy that confined itself to logical truths, seeing itself as a kind of mathematics of language, had sealed itself inside a futile, circular system of self-reference. Why shouldn't philosophy concern itself with facts? Why shouldn't it get involved with the uncertain conjectures of science? Who cared whether the abstract concepts of action or freedom made sense or not? Surely it was more interesting to think about what caused us to act, and what made us less or more free to do so? Yes, those sounded more like scientific questions than like philosophical ones, but that was only because, over the years, philosophy had ceded so much of the interesting territory to science. Why shouldn't philosophy be in the business of getting at the truth of things?"

Food Is What You Want To Eat

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb; if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat."

- Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 28, 2007

Like Now

From The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick:

"It's so beautiful," said Isabelle. "It looks like the whole city is made out of stars."

"Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I'm not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too."

'A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) by French filmmaker and special-effects pioneer George Melies in 1902 inspired author Brian Selznick. For instance, a scene in which the Man in the Moon is hit in the eye by a giant space bullet is echoed in Selznick's book.' - NPRThey watched the stars, and they saw the moon hanging high above them. The city sparkled below, and the only sound was the steady rhythmic pulse of the clock's machinery. Hugo remembered another movie he and his father had seen a few years earlier, where time stops in all of Paris, and everyone is frozen in their tracks. But the night watchman of the Eiffel Tower, and some passengers who land in an airplane, are mysteriously able to move around the silent city. What would that be like? Even if all the clocks in the station break down, thought Hugo, time won't stop. Not even if you really want it to.

Like now.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What About Me?

Books by Sakyong Mipham

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Today is No Different

A NYC taxi driver returned a bag containing 31 diamond rings which he found in the trunk of his cab after dropping off a passenger who gave him a 30-cent tip on a $10.70 fare.

"All my life, I tried to be honest. Today is no different. I'm not going to take someone else's money or property to make me rich. I don't want it that way," said Osman Chowdhury, a soft-spoken cabbie, who was a contractor in Bangladesh until he came to the United States 15 years ago. He does not own a cab but rents one.

"I enjoy my life. I'm satisfied," said Chowdhury.

- Associated Press story

Monday, February 05, 2007

Magic for Beginners

I’m enjoying a delicious collection of short stories by Kelly Link called Magic for Beginners. Her eccentric characters and hip wit remind me of Elizabeth McCracken. These stories lure us into blurry places (simulateously mundane and fantastic) between genres. You can read the first story, "The Faery Handbag" and a sampling of her other stories online.

I’ll tempt you into her clever world with a couple of excerpts from “The Hortlak,” in which two characters work alternating shifts at a 24-hour convenience store (“Eric was night, and Batu was day.”) and a third, a woman named Charley (“the moon”) who works in an animal shelter, drops by the store frequently while out giving the dogs she has to euthanize one final ride in her car.

Batu said it was clear Charley had a great capacity for hating; and also a great capacity for love. Charley’s hatred was seasonal: in the months after Christmas, Christmas puppies started growing up. People got tired of trying to house-train them. All February, all March, Charley hated people. She hated people in December, too, just for practice.

Being in love, Batu said, like working retail, meant that you had to settle for being hated, at least part of the year. That was what the months after Christmas were all about. Neither system—not love, not retail—was perfect. When you looked at dogs, you saw this, that love didn’t work.

Batu said it was likely that Charley, both her person and her Chevy, were infested with dog ghosts…Nonhuman ghosts, he said, were the most difficult of all ghosts to dislodge, and dogs were worst of all. There is nothing as persistent, as loyal, as clingy as a dog.

“So you can see these ghosts?" Eric said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Batu said. “You can’t see that kind of ghost. You smell them.”

Batu had spent a lot of time reorganizing the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness. The week before, he had arranged it so that if you took the first letter of every candy, reading across from left to write, and then down, it spelled out the first sentence of To Kill a Mockingbird, and then also a line of Turkish poetry. Something about the moon.

Sunday, February 04, 2007



It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

- Thomas R. Smith, from Waking before Dawn © Red Dragonfly Press

Story is What Penetrates

"The narrative impulse is always with us; we couldn't imagine ourselves through a day without it...We need myths to get by. We need story; otherwise the tremendous randomness of experience overwhelms us. Story is what penetrates."

- Robert Coover

Friday, February 02, 2007

All Your Senses Open

We saw Children of Men last night and I was surprised to notice that it was based on a book written by P.D. James, the mystery writer. Wikipedia reports that Alfonso Cuarón's film is a loose adaptation of the book which was published in 1992 ("substantial changes were made in terms of plot, political message and characters in the updated film"), but I was still curious enough to reserve a copy from the library. Here's an excerpt of the book from the author's web page.

Check out the mystery writing tips where I found this quote: "You must go through life with all your senses open to experiences, good and bad. Empathize with other people, and believe that nothing which happens to a true writer is ever wasted."

The Unreal is More Powerful than the Real

"The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it, because it's only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die, but things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on."

- Chuck Palahniuk

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Basic Facility

“You have to really stick with it. You gotta really put in three or four years of apprenticeship just to get some basic facility with it.”

- Paul Attanasio (Screenwriter: Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco, Sphere, The Sum of All Fears, The Good German, The Bourne Ultimatum, East of Eden; Producer: House) on discipline and the craft of screenwriting.

The Paradox of Acting [and Life]

This comment from John Lahr's delicious essay on stagefright ("Petrified," The New Yorker, Aug. 28, 2006) reminds me of the simulatenous yet contradictory skills developed through meditation which contribute to regular life becoming gradually more awake:

"The paradox of acting is that, like surfing, it requires both relaxation and concentration. If there is concentration without relaxation, or relaxation without concentration, the performance doesn't work."
Lahr quotes pianist Charles Rosen who sees "stagefright as an inevitable and appropriate result of a vituoso's perfectionism."

'Stagefright is not merely symbolically but functionally necessary, like the dread of a candidate before an examination or a job interview, both designed essentially as a test of courage. Stagefright, like epilepsy, is a divine ailment, a sacred madness...It is a grace that is sufficient in the old Jesuit sense -- that is, insufficient by itself but a necessary condition for success.'

Conspiring to Distract You

Excerpt from A Librarian's Lament: Books Are a Hard Sale an essay by Thomas Washington from The Washington Post (1/21/07):

Typically, many people in my line of work no longer have the title of librarian. They are called media and information specialists, or sometimes librarian technologists. The buzzword in the trade is "information literacy," a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books. These days, librarians measure the quality of returns in data-mining stints. We teach students how to maximize a database search, about successful retrieval rates. What usually gets lost in the scramble is a careful reading of the material.


I recently spoke with a junior who was stressed about her decreasing ability to focus on anything for longer than two minutes or so. I tried to inspire her by talking about the importance of reading as a way to train the brain. I told her that a good reader develops the same powers of concentration that an athlete or a Buddhist would employ in sport or meditation. "A lot out there is conspiring to distract you," I said.

She rolled her eyes. "That's your opinion about books. It doesn't make it true." To her, the idea that reading might benefit the mind was, well, lame.

A library's neglected shelves reveal the demise of something important, especially for young readers starved for meaning -- for anything profound. Still, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I'm turning the new-arrivals shelf into a main attraction in my school's library. Recently I stood Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" next to the DVD version produced by the BBC. Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) graced both covers. A senior fingered the DVD for a minute, then turned it over to read the blurb. "The book is too long," she said. "Is the movie any better?"

"You're right. The book is long," I said. "But once you start this one, you won't be able to put it down, right from that first page about the London fog."

"I think I'll watch the DVD," the student said.

And in my library ledger, I'll register this as a sale.