Monday, July 30, 2007

In the Anonymous and Triumphant Totality

“I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain. I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn’t matter; I will find the same joy in any case. Whether I am a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or pagan, I work with all the world to build a cathedral because I am artist and artisan, and because I have learned to draw faces, limbs, and bodies out of stone. I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. A dragon or a demon, or perhaps a saint, it doesn’t matter!”

--Ingmar Bergman (July 14, 1918 – July 30, 2007)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Train Your Mind

"We have no idea how much plasticity there really is in the human brain until we see what intense mental training, not some weekly meditation session, can accomplish. We've gotten this idea, in Western culture, that we can change our mental status by a once-a-week, forty-five minute intervention, which is completely cockamamy. Athletes and musicians train many hours every day. As a neuroscientist, I have to believe that engaging in compassion meditation every day for an hour each day would change your brain in important ways. To deny that without testing it, to accept the null hypothesis, is simply bad science."

"I believe that neuroplasticity will reshape psychology in the coming years. Much of psychology had accepted the idea of a fixed program unfolding in the brain, one that strongly shapes behavior, personality, and emotional states. That view is just shattered by the discoveries of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity will be the counterweight to the determanistic view (that genes have behavior on a short leash). The message I take from my own work is that I have a choice in how I react, that who I am depends on the choices I make, and that who I am is therefore my responsibility."

Richard Davidson, Ph.D University of Wisconsin-Madison quoted by Sharon Begley in her book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. [From Kit]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Gift and a Commodity

Jonathan Lethem talking with Michael Silverblatt (KCRW's Bookworm, 7/19/07) about his latest work, You Don't Love Me Yet:

What bothers me about plagiarism is not that I don’t believe there can be such a thing. Anyone can identify the fringe activity where something is appropriated joylessly and unimaginatively and deceptively. And we can all condemn that very easily. But what fascinates me is that people work so hard to ignore the resemblance between that activity and what artists do routinely, necessarily all the time in their procedure which is grab on to stuff, move it around, transform it. And when the same thing is done and value is added and influence is acknowledged, well this is culture making. It’s not some minority activity, this is culture making at its most central. This is what people do.

It’s not that an act of art making is either a commodity transaction or a gift transaction—to use Lewis Hyde's vocabulary, the author of The Gift—but that it’s innately both. If I do what I do—do what I mean to do—when I offer a book into the world, sure I’d like to get paid. But if it’s any good at all, I hope to transmit something far more valuable than the $23.95 you’ve shelled out at the bookstore. I want it to sink into you and become a part of you and trouble you. It’s something I could never ideally be repaid for and I wouldn’t want to try. So it’s a gift and a commodity at the same moment. And this is what artists do.

An Amalgam

“…we are not just the products of our mothers and fathers ... I am not just my adoptive parents' child and I am not just my biological parents' child. I am simultaneously all of their children and their parents' children and their great-grandparents' children…I describe myself as an amalgam of these four parents, but what’s amazing is that in my biological child I also see my adoptive family. There was a moment about a year ago when I took a photograph of my daughter and she somehow had the same expression on her face as my grandmother who she never met. So she too is an amalgam of all these things.”

--A.M. Homes talking with Steve Inskeep (Morning Edition, 7/26/06) about being reluctantly sought out by her biological mother. She wrote about meeting her biological parents in her memoir, The Mistress's Daughter.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson

"It has been a wonderful life. I feel like a jug into which wine is poured until it overflows."

-- Lady Bird Johnson, 1912-2007

Keep Feeding the Lake

"All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake."

The Character You Know Best

Howard Jacobson discussing character on Ian McMillan's Writing Lab:

...there’s a general thing to say about characters, which is in the end, no matter where you find [them] from, and no matter how closely you are looking, or no matter how interestingly you’re observing, in the end a character will originate in the seedbed which is your own mind, your imagination.

The characters who give me most trouble are the characters most like myself. And that’s to say the male hero because I mainly do have male heroes. And the reason they give you so much trouble is because there is something you’re needing to honour that’s not to do with just what you’re creating in your mind or on your desk in that hour. A minor character comes and goes and you owe no-one anything, he’s yours. You’re not trying to live up to something that you’ve seen, even though you may have seen something interesting.

When you’re writing about yourself, there is the tumult of you that you have to do justice to, and that you will feel you’ve failed it if you’re too easy on yourself, if you’re too hard on yourself, if you’re too kind, if you’re too funny about yourself or solemn about yourself. So to get the balance of feelings towards yourself and you too are a character in a novel if your novel’s any good. You, too, are a character, you’re not just the voice, you are the character. So you are fretting all the time about whether you’re doing justice to yourself. The character you know best is the hardest character to write.

I think one thing to avoid with character is the idea that you can go out and find it. There is an assumption that if you overhear people, on a bus or a train, and repeat what they say, you will have the real feel of life. You won’t. If you write what you’ve overheard, it will sound like something that you’ve overheard. It has to go; it has to pass through you first. It has to have the permission. A character has to have the permission of your soul before it becomes a character. A character isn ’t vivid by virtue of your having seen a vivid person in life. Nothing lives, nothing in a novel lives, neither character nor story nor anything else until it is written. By which I mean until it has become yours.

No character is a picture of a real one. You couldn’t write if you haven’t lived in a real non-fictional world but your characters, once you’ve made them, are yours, accountable to nobody but you.

[mp3 of interview]

Friday, July 20, 2007

Simple Religion

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

- The Dalai Lama

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow

"If I could snap my fingers and become nonautistic, I would not - because then I wouldn't be me. Autism is part of who I am."

-- Dr. Temple Grandin

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5
Books by Temple Grandin

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Didn't Have the Tools To See

Dr. Esther Sternberg discussing new insights into the molecular level of the mind-body connection on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett:

Scientists need evidence. We need measurable proof. That started with Descartes in the 1600s. And at that time, 400 or 500 years ago, science didn't have the tools to measure something as ephemeral and not concrete as abstract as an emotion.

You can measure disease. Disease is an abnormality of anatomy. So with the anatomists of the 16th century, when they started to dissect the human body, they discovered that when there was a pneumonia, there was a hole in the lung. You know, there was a problem in the liver, there was an anatomical problem in the liver. So the assumption became that disease is associated with an abnormality of anatomy, which allowed huge advances in medicine. You know, Laennec, in the 19th century, when he developed the stethoscope, developed it so that you could hear problems in the lung. Without seeing them, you could actually hear them. And so that's concrete; that's easy to understand.

But we didn't have the tools until now, until very recently, to see the living human brain at work with neuroimaging. We didn't have the tools to see into how the nerve cells function, the biochemistry, the chemicals that change, the nerve chemicals that are released, the electrical activity that changes. We couldn't see into the genes that make these cells function until very, very recently.

And here is a quote from the book:

"Emotions are always with us but constantly shifting. They change the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves. Diseases come and go but on a different time scale. And if they change the way we see the world, they do it through emotions. Could something as vague and fleeting as an emotion actually affect something as tangible as a disease? Can depression cause arthritis? Can laughing and a positive attitude ameliorate, even help to cure disease? We all suspect that the answers to these questions are yes, yet we can't say why and certainly not how. Indeed, entire self-cure industries have been built on this underlying assumption. But physicians and scientists, until recently, dismissed such ideas as nonsense because there did not appear to be a plausible biological mechanism to explain the link. Part of the reason for this is that scientists and lay people speak different languages. But so do emotions and disease. Poetry and song are the language of emotions. Scientific precision, logic, and deductive reasoning are the language of disease."

Monday, July 16, 2007


Remy, A young rat with a refined sense of taste wants to become a chef. His family doesn’t understand why he can’t be content with eating trash and contributing to the common good of the pack. Remy’s father, Django, takes him to the exterminator shop with dead rats in the window.

DJANGO: The world we live in belongs to the enemy, we must live carefully. We look out for our own kind, Remy. When all is said and done, we're all we've got.

REMY: No. Dad, I don't believe it. You're telling me that the future is - can only be - more of this?

DJANGO: This is the way things are; you can't change nature.

REMY: Change is nature, Dad. The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.

DJANGO: [Remy turns to leave] Where are you going?

REMY: Hopefully, forward.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Existentially Lonely

“Americans have become existentially lonely. We’re disconnected from nature and from the animal parts of ourselves. We’re living in cities and we’re generally frustrated by our work and dissatisfied with politics, technology and religion, all of which have mostly failed to uplift us as promised. So we’ve been turning to animals for companionship and love and emotional support.”

—Jon Katz, author of Dog Days, quoted in "Best Sellers That Woof and Meow," New York Times (7/15/07)

To Evoke Sensation in the Reader

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

E. L. Doctorow

A Good Experience for Both Partners

“The century I have inhabited has not seen the abandonment of war and violence. It has not solved the problem of poverty, nor has it improved human nature. However, we can credit the century with producing the public realization that sex has to be good for both partners. That is also the key to writing both fiction and nonfiction. It has to be a good experience for both partners, the writer and the reader, and it is a source of distress to me to observe how frequently writers ignore the pleasure of their partners.”

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing

We Are Shaping the Past that Shapes Us

"I think for most of us, we need to come to terms with the past which is continually shaping us. And I believe that we are every moment of the waking day we’re being shaped by the past, but I also think—and this is where it gets interesting for me—that we are shaping the past that shapes us, at least in part through the stories that we tell. So we’re telling stories about what we did, who we were, who we knew, who we avoided, whatever. And the telling of those stories about our past creates the thing that shapes us in turn. And that back and forth, that sort of cyclical thing is where the role of story comes in for me."

Mark Slouka, speaking with KCRW Bookworm's Michael Silverblatt about his novel The Visible World

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Louder Than Before

Why New Music Doesn't Sound As Good As It Did?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Wind

Never Let the Best Man Win

“…you never let the best man win. Fuck the best man, that’s always been my motto. It’s the man who ducks his head and moves on through no matter what wind or weather who gets there in the end. A man with guts and application. A man who doesn’t give a shit. A man with a rigid sense of duty. There’s no contradiction between those last two statements. Believe me.”

Harold Pinter, Ashes to Ashes

No Explanation Outside Fiction

“The story and its analyses are not mirror-opposites of each other. They are not reflections, either one. Criticism indeed is an art, as a story is, but only the story is to some degree a vision; there is no explanation outside fiction for what the writer is learning to do.”

Eudora Welty, On Writing

On Chesil Beach

The bride was not hurried in her movements—this was yet another of those delaying tactics that also committed her further. She was aware of her husband’s enchanted gaze, but for the moment she did not feel quite so agitated or pressured. Entering the bedroom, she had plunged into an uncomfortable, dreamlike condition that encumbered her like an old-fashioned diving suit in deep water. Her thoughts did not seem her own—they were piped down to her, thoughts instead of oxygen.

And in this condition she had been aware of a stately, simple musical phrase, playing and repeating itself, the shadowy ungraspable way of auditory memory, following her to the bedside, where it played again as she took a shoe in each hand. The familiar phrase—some might even have called it famous—consisted of four rising notes, which appeared to be posing a tentative question. Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and a lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer. There was no set of words she could match to these notes; it was not as if something were being said. The inquiry was without content, as pure as a question mark.

Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach