Saturday, May 31, 2008

Not in the Artist's Power to Know

George Saunders on KCRW's Bookworm (12.27.07):

" earlier ideal, which was the writer knew very well what he wanted you to feel at the end of the story. It was a Hemingwayesque model where I thought, I really thought and loved this idea, that I went to Spain, was gored by a bull, was made impotent, went to World War I, and drank Absynthe. Then the idea was that what I wrote was going to cause you -- a person I never met -- to be in approximately the same emotional state and sensual state that I was in at the end of the process.


I really thought that's the way it worked. So, as you can imagine, that's impossible for a writer to -- I think Mamet talks about the intentional fallacy -- how do I know how to move you from Point A to Point B? Maybe some people can do it, but I can't. It's almost like trying to move something delicate with extension robot arms. I don't know how to do it.

So when I dropped that idea and just thought, I'm going to try to make an intense experience for myself as I write it, try to radically inhabit certain principles [plain language, compression, etc.], then I don't really know what happens to you out there. In a way, I don't care.

I want you to be moved from Point A to Point B and I think, really, since writing is in large part a form of very beautiful entertainment, the whole idea is that you've got to be moved from A to B. And I think actually, where you end up at B is actually not in the artist's power to know. I think.

Now I'm not positive about that, but I think the times that I thought I knew where I wanted you to be, those are always failed experiments. When I said, I'm going to pay really close attention to this sentence and this sentence and make sure that there's not falseness in there, then there does seem to be emotion at the end. And I think it does have, weirdly, a roughly moral trajectory."

[See also: CarrollBlog 5.16.08]


From a interview with Michael Crichton regarding his 1993 prediction of mass-media extinction ("Michael Crichton, Vindicated" by Jack Shafer, 5.29.08):

I have been very interested in the differences between how scientists and engineers treat information, for example. The fact is, engineers are much more rigorous about information, and it has legal consequences for them. In contrast, scientists (and politicians) are just playing with information. Broadly speaking, they have no responsibility for what they say at all. Now, as our society shifts away from manufacturing (now something like 15 percent of workers are engaged in making something), I speculate that this is having an effect on what we regard as information. I speculate we are moving from the rigor of engineers to the free-for-all of politicians. In which case, nobody is interested in high-quality information. It only gets in the way.

Arguably, contemporary media has made that shift away from hard information toward free-for-all opinion and speculation. This shouldn't cost a lot, and indeed modern media peddles an inexpensive product. Most cable television "news" is just talking heads and food fights; they don't even change the heads very often—they hire regulars who appear week after week. Most newspaper reporting consists of rewritten press releases and faxes. Many reporters don't go after stories, they wait for the stories to be fed to them by publicists and flacks. Now if you set aside this cheap model and instead start staffing bureaus around the world, putting reporters and cameras on the ground, assembling smart teams to do real investigative work in business, high tech, and so on, that costs a lot of money. I remain convinced that plenty of people would pay for a good news service—who stayed with a daisy wheel printer once laser printers arrived? We didn't know we wanted laser printers, as we didn't know we wanted digital cameras, but it turns out we did. In any case, what we are now being fed as news is repetitive, simplistic, and insulting.

Brain Control

From Discovery Health News (5.29.08):

Relying solely on brain signal manipulation, monkeys have learned to operate human-like robotic arms to feed themselves, U.S. researchers reported Wednesday.

This cutting-edge development in the field of neuroprosthetics was made possible by linking up neural pathways in the voluntary movement region of the monkey's brain to a specially designed computer software program. In turn, the monkey's mental "firings" were turned into fluid and natural prosthetic movements -- enabling arm-restrained primates to grip and eat marshmallows and fruit with a claw-like robotic hand.

"This a step on the way to fully mobile arms and dexterous prosthetic hand that will be controlled with brain activity recorded directly from the individual brain cells," said the study's lead author, Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The research, published Wednesday in the online edition of Nature, is being touted as a significant advance towards designing functional prosthetic devices for fully paralyzed individuals.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Telling the Truth

Michael Silverblatt: How do we make real life happen on the page? Because the page is another place where until you learn how, you don't know how to tell the truth. Even some of the books we love most that are trying as hard as they can to tell the truth, you don't learn how until you find the style for truth-telling, that will open the door to possibility. How do you find that?

Anne Enright: I don't know. I blunder around.

Anne Enright in London after winning the Man Booker prize. (Photo: The Associated Press)

Discussing The Gathering, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007, on KCRW's Bookworm (4.10.08).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bang, Bang, Bang, Kiss, Kiss

Ian Fleming

"James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been — bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It's what you would expect of an adolescent mind — which I happen to possess."

~ Ian Fleming, born May 28, 1908

More Awful by Degrees

Riding Toward Everywhere "When I was finishing this book, Cormac McCarthy's The Road came out and I was thinking that, of course, is the life that a real hobo would be living and how awful it would be to live that life. Much more awful than the life that we are living now.

But the life we are all living now seems to be getting more and more awful by degrees. The control of thought, the fear, the acceptance of torture, the war crimes — all these things kind of make a mockery out of what being American is supposed to be, is supposed to mean.

And so who are we? In a way, we are all either living a lie or living nothing. And I'm trying to figure out how to stop living the lie that I live.

So who are we and where do we go? What should we be doing? And there's no answer. Except, once we think we know, we failed. And that is one of the reasons that I write a book without a beginning and end, and why I get on a train without knowing where the train is going to go."


"In part, to be an American means to go out and seek for a little piece of paradise. The frontier closed officially around the turn of the twentieth century, but we're still looking for it. We still love the idea that there's and economic frontier, a sexual frontier, an artistic frontier, somehow we're trying to sublimate it. But all these frontiers are rather lonely and we're less likely to meet people in our travels than ever before. So we become more narcissistic and solipsistic and more fearful."

~ "Fauxbo" William T. Vollmann, discussing his book Riding Toward Everywhere on KCRW's Bookworm (3.27.08)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Signal

Dennis Palumbo "I think the reason there's so much envy is because it's such a competitive marketplace and we believe that if Person A has success, that's a success I'm not going to have.

My experience with envy, in myself and in my patients, is it's usually a signal to you of how important the thing is you want to do. I've never had a patient who was very happy with what they were writing or very excited about a film they were directing that had much envy. If you're sort of engaged with what you're doing you don't care what's on the best seller list. if you feel like nothing's happening in your career or that you're not excited about what you're working on, then I think every success someone else has is a piercing reminder to you of what's not happening for you.

And that's why one of the things I advise patients all the time is to look for solace and gratification in the work that they're doing. I think the process of work saves your butt, because if you're only excited when your screen play gets made into a film that's released, that's going to happen once every five or seven years. And when they do come, your dissatisfaction that they don't make you feel as good as you thought will just disconfirm the value of doing all the work.

Will you be jealous and envious of other people's success? Yes. "

~ Writer and therapist Dennis Palumbo, from Part II of "Hollywood on the Couch," KCRW's The Business (5.19.08).

There All Day

Carnival evening : new and selected poems, 1968-1998What We Want
by Linda Pastan

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there

From Carnival evening : new and selected poems, 1968-1998. Heard today, the poet's birthday, on The Writer's Almanac.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't Fall in Love With Your Monkey

Rhesus Macaques In this episode of The Moth, Ari Handel recounts a special relationship he developed when working on his Ph.D. in Neuroscience which he completed in 2000. He has worked as a producer on for Darren Aronofsky films and as a story collaborator on The Fountain.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Photo by AJ Mast for The New York Times"Religion is a story that the left brain tells the right brain...nirvana exists right now. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful state and that we can get there."

~ Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, from "A Superhighway to Bliss," New York Times (5.25.08)

How to Read a Myth

Joseph Campbell’s Ten Commandments for Reading Mythology

Myths to Live By 1. Read myths with the eyes of wonder: the myths transparent to their universal meaning, their meaning transparent to its mysterious source.

2. Read myths in the present tense: Eternity is now.

3. Read myths in the first person plural: the Gods and Goddesses of ancient mythology still live within you.

4. Any myth worth its salt exerts a powerful magnetism. Notice the images and stories that you are drawn to and repelled by. Investigate the field of associated images and stories.

5. Look for patterns; don’t get lost in the details. What is needed is not more specialized scholarship, but more interdisciplinary vision. Make connections; break old patterns of thought.

6. Resacrilize the secular: even a dollar bill reveals the imprint of Eternity.

7. If God is everywhere, then myths can be generated anywhere, anytime, by anything. Don’t let your Romantic aversion to science blind you to the Buddha in the computer chip.

8. Know your tribe! Myths never arise in a vacuum; they are the connective tissue of the social body which enjoys synergistic relations with dreams (private myths) and rituals (the enactment of a myth).

9. Expand your horizon! Any mythology worth remembering will be global in scope. The earth is our home and humankind is our family.

10. Read between the lines! Literalism kills; imagination quickens.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Curious Case

Here is the first trailer (in Spanish) for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages in reverse. The film, which also features Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, is based on a short story written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, "This story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s to the effect that it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end."

The film is scheduled to be released around Christmas 2008. The music used in the trailer is Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.

The Fear of Being Found Out

Dennis Palumbo "From a very young age, when a person says, Gee, I'd like to be a writer or I'd like to be an actor or whatever, it seems so grandiose. It seems so elevated. I mean, if you watch Will Smith on screen and you're a kid who says, Gee, I wanna be a movie star just like him, your fantasy is he or she has something you don't have. You're not enough. I think one of the reasons that people read self-help books and stuff is that they have this idea that there's this perfectible version of themselves in the future. And that person will be happy and successful and very secure. Most creative people, when they begin having some success, get a kind of validation like they're on Oprah or the paparazzi follow them or magazines interview them and want to know their position on the environment, but inside themselves they know they're the same schmuck that grew up in some small town looking up at a movie screen wanting to be an actor. So they see a disconnect between the public approbation and validation and their sense of themselves, which is that they're just this regular, insecure, neurotic slug and so someone will find that out. The fear is that it will be found out that they are much less than we thought."

~ Writer and therapist Dennis Palumbo, from "Hollywood on the Couch," KCRW's The Business (5.12.08). The conversation continues in Part II (5.19.08)

Friday, May 23, 2008

To Be Open to What It's Going to Be

"The way I write is very much without kind of a goal. I have something I'm interested in and then I decide I'm going to explore it. I don't know where the characters are going to go, I don't know what the movie is going to do or what the screenplay is going to do. For me, that's the way to keep it alive. I tried to approach the directing in the same way. We have the script, we have the actors, and we're trying to figure out what this is, and you don't know what it is. You have to be open to what it's going to become rather than have this thing that you're trying to get to, which is boring."

"I'm interested in dreams and the way we tell ourselves stories in a dream. Let me make it clear that this film isn't a dream, but it does have a dreamlike logic. In a dream, you may start to fly and it doesn't seem unusual to you. Your reaction is not at all like the one you'd have if you were awake in the normal world. You have to accept everything that happens in the film the way it comes. Of course it's something that wouldn't happen in real life – we're in a film!"

~ Charlie Kaufmann, speaking at Cannes this week about his latest film and directorial debut, Synecdoche

Making Artisan Ice Creams at Home

Photo of Jeni Britton by Lisa FjeldOur sweet friend Jeni recently developed recipes for making a few of her famous ice cream flavors at home. It took 75 attempts to get it right, but she is thrilled with the results which can be made using a modestly priced machine like this Cuisinart. The results were published in the June 2008 issue of Food & Wine.

You can take a stab at her Sour Cherry Lambic Sorbet which won a Gallo Family Vineyards Gold Medal this year in the outstanding fruit or vegetable category. When Jeni makes it, she uses Lindeman's Kriek Lambic from Belgium.

Jeni recommends scrapping the egg yolks which are typically used as a thickener in homemade ice cream. Boiling the cream and milk evaporates some of the water which gives most homemade ice creams their iciness. Adding cornstarch thickens the cream and absorbs more of the water.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Impermanence "How do you convey a sense of change? How do you convey that everything in our lives — everything — is constantly changing and that one cannot hold on to anything? And certainly the impulse was coming from the sense of the preciousness of life and that every moment is the only moment that we have."

~ Meredith Monk, discussing her recent work, Impermanence, with Lara Pellegrinelli on All Things Considered (May 13, 2008)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Only Hitting One

Mothers and Sons: Stories by Colm Tóibín"Reading and writing are done alone and there's still a lovely privacy in that and a power about it, that you're affecting someone when they're alone. Which is probably the most powerful time to affect people. And I know we should all be making movies or writing rock songs or something. But fiction remains powerful in this sense, that you're hitting one person at a time. And I think that idea of only hitting one, therefore, has an interesting attraction and power to it."

~ Colm Tóibín, KCRW's Bookworm (April 17, 2008)

Monday, May 19, 2008

What You Can, Like, Do


"Please, please do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation...Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, 'Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually,' "

~ David McCullough, in his commencement address to Boston College's class of 2008 today. 

The Universe on a String

Physicist Brian Greene explains superstring theory, the idea that minscule strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe.

"You see, our universe is kind of like a finely tuned machine. Scientists have found that there are about 20 numbers, 20 fundamental constants of nature that give the universe the characteristics we see today. These are numbers like how much an electron weighs, the strength of gravity, the electromagnetic force and the strong and weak forces. Now, as long as we set the dials on our universe machine to precisely the right values for each of these 20 numbers, the machine produces the universe we know and love.

But if we change the numbers by adjusting the settings on this machine even a little bit... the consequences are dramatic.

For example, if I increase the strength of the electromagnetic force, atoms repel one other more strongly, so the nuclear furnaces that make stars shine break down. The stars, including our sun, fizzle out, and the universe as we know it disappears.

So what exactly, in nature, sets the values of these 20 constants so precisely? Well the answer could be the extra dimensions in string theory. That is, the tiny, curled up, six-dimensional shapes predicted by the theory cause one string to vibrate in precisely the right way to produce what we see as a photon and another string to vibrate in a different way producing an electron. So according to string theory, these miniscule extra-dimensional shapes really may determine all the constants of nature, keeping the cosmic symphony of strings in tune."

~ Brian Greene, from The String's the Thing (Hour 2 of Nova's The Elegant Universe)

Body Maps

From The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee:

Just as a road atlas is full of maps that represent real-world locations, your brain is full of maps that represent all aspects of your physical self, inside and out. Your brain is teeming with maps that underlie your ability to touch things, move about, act freely, feel emotion, and interact with others. But unlike road maps, your body maps are dynamic: They grow, shrink, and morph to suit your needs.

Each of your body parts is faithfully mapped based on the touch receptors embedded throughout your skin. This is your primary touch map. You also have a primary motor map, for making movements. Instead of receiving information from your skin, this map sends signals from your brain out to your muscles. Together, these two primary maps are the foundation of your mind-body interface.

body-mind Elsewhere in your brain you have maps of the space around your body, out to the end of your fingertips. These personal space maps can extend even further, morphing like an amoeba's pseudopod to include any physical tool you pick up, any item of clothing or sporting equipment you put on, or even any virtual extension of yourself that you control with a mouse or a joystick, into your own bodily self-representation.

Some of your most amazing body maps are made up of special brain cells called mirror neurons. These cells fire when you observe someone doing an action—say, scratching their chin—and when you scratch your own chin. As a result, you may feel a desire to scratch your chin, or even develop a genuine itch there. Mirror neurons map the actions, intentions  and emotions of others directly into your own system of body maps, creating as close to a telepathic link as the known laws of nature allow. They allow you to understand and empathize with the minds of others, not through conceptual reasoning, but through direct simulation via your own body maps. They reveal how children learn, why you respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art, why media and video game violence can be harmful, the appeal of pornography, and may even help explain homophobia.

Your brain also has a set of maps of your internal organs. Present in all mammals, these visceral maps are uniquely super- developed in the human brain. Evolution has extended these maps' functions far beyond their original purpose of just letting you know you are hungry, thirsty, horny, or need air. These maps afford you a level of access to the ebb and flow of your internal sensations unrivaled anywhere else in the animal kingdom, and they are fundamental to the uniquely rich emotional inner life of our species. They are important in empathy, moral judgment, social intercourse, and many aspects of mental and physical health.

All these body maps are profoundly plastic—capable of significant reorganization in response to damage, experience or practice. Concert pianists have enlarged hand maps. Veteran meditators have enlarged visceral maps. Golfers with the yips and musicians with musician's cramp have blurred body maps. Autistic people have scrambled body maps.

...It comes down to the body maps in your brain. As science would have it, the mind is what the brain does. And the brain is intimately connected to the body, as studies of its sprawling network of body maps are revealing in ever greater detail. All your emotions, feelings, and your sense of individual selfhood stem from the interaction of these maps in your brain, the body in your brain, your embodied brain.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


"Mindfulness is moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention. Mindfulness arises naturally from living. It can be strengthened through practice. This practice is sometimes called meditation. But meditation is not what you think.

Meditation is really about paying attention, and the only way in which we can pay attention is through our senses, all of them, including the mind. Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience. Of course, our experience is vast, and includes our own body, our mind, our heart, and the entire world."

~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness (Excerpts from Coming to Our Senses)

Holding Back

“You can hold back from suffering of the world, you have permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided."

~ Franz Kafka, The Great Wall of China

Love after Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~ Derek Walcott

Friday, May 16, 2008



I See Who You Are

Pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen performing with Björk at Madison Square Garden on September 24, 2007.

I see who you are
behind the skin and the muscles
I see who you are
and when you'll get older later

I will see the same girl
the same soul
lioness, fireheart
passionate lover

and afterwards
later this century
when you and I have
become corpses

let's celebrate now
all this flesh on our bones
let me push you
up against me
and enjoy every bit of you

la la la-la la la...

let's celebrate now
all this flesh on our bones
let me push you
up against me

let's celebrate now
all this flesh on our bones
and enjoy every bit of you

la la la-la la la...

I see who you are

Listen to a Studio 360 interview with Min Xiao-Fen (5.9.08).

Learning from the Masters

"I see us as a very young species and eventually natural selection will judge the rightness of our innovations. The thing that's different about us is that we can choose to learn from the masters...It's really interesting. I look at the scientific method and it's quite different than the method that biomimics use. In the scientific method, you go to your observation with a hypothesis and then people try to find the exception to the rule. In biomimicry, you're training yourself to observe and to pull out the universal. You're sitting and observing in a way that says teach me.

~ Janine Benyus, from "Biomimicry," Studio 360 (5.9.08)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Neural Buddhists

Excerpt from a New York Times editorial (5.13.08) written by David Brooks:

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

There is Nothing Like Fiction

"I do believe that you can never know yourself, let alone the person next to you, let alone the person halfway across the world. Yet at the same time, I believe there is nothing like fiction to fully thrust you into someone else's consciousness."

Nam Le

[From Jonathan Carroll's blog]

An Old, Unmarked Path

My daughter's high school is closed today because of a "Columbine-style" threat with some reference to grenades. I am thrilled that it was a threat of violence instead of an actual act, yet it was fascinating to watch my mind as it tried to stir up strong emotions by creating narratives and dramatic scenes. I saw several vivid cinematic images with the specific details of my daughter's face and the faces of her friends. I heard sounds which I've heard countless times in movies, chaos exploding in familiar hallways and classrooms.

It was effortless for my mind to begin filling in all the details. Haven't I been practicing imagining these very things every time there has been news of a school shooting somewhere else? Don't we automatically flesh the actual tragic scenes out with pieces from our own worlds every time we hear about them?

And yet, in this instance, it was all potential, imagined, speculated, and unreal. The only real thing was the thin waft of potential threat -- which most of us understand to represent a wide range of possible realities. I am grateful that nobody was actually hurt and for the opportunity to peer directly into my mind's reflexive mechanism for triggering alarm.

The poem featured on The Writer's Almanac today overlaps with these observations: 

Borrowed Time
by David Moreau from Sex, Death and Baseball

Sex, Death and Baseball by David Moreau I will not die tonight
I will lie in bed with
my wife beside me,
curled on the right
like an animal burrowing.
I will fit myself against her
and we will keep each other warm.

I will not die tonight.
My son who is seven
will not slide beneath the ice
like the boy on the news.
The divers will not have to look
for him in cold water.
He will call, "Daddy, can I get up now?"
in the morning.

I will not die tonight.
I will balance the checkbook,
wash up the dishes
and sit in front of the TV
drinking one beer.

For the moment I hold a winning ticket.
It's my turn to buy cold cuts
at the grocery store.
I fill my basket carefully.

For like the rain that comes now
to the roof and slides down the gutter
I am headed to the earth.
And like the others, all the lost
and all the lovers, I will follow
an old path not marked on any map.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother Night

Saving Daylight by Jim HarrisonWhen you wake at three AM you don't think
of your age or sex and rarely your name
or the plot of your life which has never
broken itself down into logical pieces.
At three AM you have the gift of incomprehension
wherein the galaxies make more sense
than your job or the government. Jesus at the well
with Mary Magdalene is much more vivid
than your car. You can clearly see the bear
climb to heaven on a golden rope in the children's
story no one ever wrote. Your childhood horse
named June still stomps the ground for an apple.
What is morning and what if it doesn't arrive?
One morning Mother dropped an egg and asked
me if God was the same species as we are?
Smear of light at five AM. Sound of Webber's
sheep flock and sandhill cranes across the road,
burble of irrigation ditch beneath my window.
She said, "Only lunatics save newspapers
Jim Harrisonand magazines," fried me two eggs, then said,
"If you want to understand mortality look at birds."
Blue moon, two full moons this month,
which I conclude are two full moons. In what
direction do the dead fly off the earth? Rising sun. A thousand blackbirds pronounce day.

~ by Jim Harrison, Saving Daylight. Check out "Called to Be a Poet," Weekend America (1.27.07) for an interview with the poet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Day of Sentiment

From The Writer's Almanac:

Photograph of Anna M. Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day, taken in Westchester, Pennsylvania, in 1907. It's the second Sunday in May, which is Mother's Day here in the United States. It's Mother's Day in other countries, too, including Denmark, Italy, Venezuela, Turkey, Australia, and Japan. It's the biggest day of the year for long-distance telephone calls.

A woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother's Day. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had a similar idea, and in 1905 the daughter swore at her mother's grave to dedicate her life to the project. She campaigned tirelessly for the holiday. In 1907, she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother's Day. She said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She was against the selling of flowers, and she called greeting cards "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." Nevertheless, Mother's Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home without a penny to her name, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist's Exchange.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Happiness By Design

"Renowned for the album covers he created for the likes of Lou Reed, Talking Heads and the Rolling Stones, Austrian-born, New York City-dwelling designer Stefan Sagmeister invariably has a slightly different way of looking at things."

A list of things Stefan Sagmeister has learned in his life so far:

  • Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
  • Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.
  • Being not truthful works against me.
  • Helping other people helps me.
  • Organizing a charity group is surprisingly easy.
  • Everything I do always comes back to me.
  • Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
  • Over time I get used to everything and start taking if for granted.
  • Money does not make me happy.
  • Traveling alone is helpful for a new perspective on life.
  • Assuming is stifling.
  • Keeping a diary supports my personal development.
  • Trying to look good limits my life.
  • Worrying solves nothing.
  • Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
  • Having guts always works out for me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Standing Up to Reason

The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace (1997)"If this [scientific finding] contradicts some aspect of Buddhist doctrine as contained in the scriptures, we have no other choice but to accept that that teaching is in need of interpretation. Thus, we cannot accept it literally simply because it has been taught by the Buddha; we have to examine whether it is contradicted by reason or not. If it does not stand up to reason, we cannot accept it literally. We have to analyze such teachings to discover the intention and purpose behind them and regard them as subject to interpretation. Therefore, in Buddhism great emphasis is laid on the importance of investigation."

~ The Dalai Lama, from The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Entering the Kingdom

The crows see me.
They stretch their glossy necks
In the tallest branches
Of green trees. I am
Possibly dangerous, I am
Entering the kingdom.

The dream of my life
Is to lie down by a slow river
And stare at the light in the trees-
To learn something by being nothing
A little while but the rich
Lens of attention.

But the crows puff their feathers and cry
Between me and the sun,
And I should go now.
They know me for what I am.
No dreamer,
No eater of leaves.

~ Mary Oliver

Monday, May 05, 2008

Secret Gratification

Selected Stories by Andre Dubus In her seventh month, with a delight reminiscent of climbing the stairs to Richard's apartment before they were married, she returned to her world of secret gratification. She began hiding candy in her underwear drawer. She ate it during the day and at night while Richard slept, and at breakfast she was distracted, waiting for him to leave.

She gave birth to a son, brought him home, and nursed both him and her appetites. During this time of celibacy she enjoyed her body through her son's mouth; while he suckled she stroked his small head and back. She was hiding candy but she did not conceal her other indulgences: she was smoking again but still she ate between meals, and at dinner she ate what Richard did, and coldly he watched her, he grew petulant, and when the date marking the end of their celibacy came they let it pass. Often in the afternoons her mother visited and scolded her and Louise sat looking at the baby and said nothing until finally, to end it, she promised to diet. When her mother and father came for dinners, her father kissed her and held the baby and her mother said nothing about Louise's body, and her voice was tense. Returning from work in the evenings Richard looked at a soiled plate and glass on the table beside her chair as if detecting traces of infidelity, and at every dinner they fought.

~ From "The Fat Girl" by Andre Dubus

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Connection with the Audience

"People, and I count myself as one of them, don't know how to respond to the celebrated. That if I see somebody whose work I admire, or whose work or accomplishments I stand in awe, I feel like I have a connection with them. But I don't. It's an illusion. And so I, just like anyone else, am probably going to be David Mamet by David Shankboneor feel awkward or tongue-tied or incompetent or even envious. And sometimes that's going to express itself in some sort of reserve or even antagonism. Because it seems that there's a connection, but there isn't.

...Then it occurred to me last year that the opposite's always true. That someone who is celebrated thinks that he or she has a connection with their audience. So when people come up to you and say, Oh my gosh, I loved your show or Dave, I love that play, that feels great. And you say, Oh, they really understood, they really understood. But there can't be anything beyond that because there really isn't a connection. The only connection is the work. So that someone in the public eye is almost constantly saddened and disappointed by an interaction with the audience because the audience exists as a whole, but it doesn't exist as individuals. It's an illusion."

~ David Mamet, on KCRW's The Treament (4.05.08)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Better Story

Zoetrope All-Story Spring 2008"The neighborhood kids remember Missy. She bit when she was angry and pinched no matter what. They don't feel sorry for her ghost self. They remember the funeral they were forced to attend, how her mother threw herself on the coffin, wailing, how they thought she'd been kidding and so laughed out loud and got shushed. The way the neighborhood kids tell the story, the coffin was lowered into the ground and Missy Goodby's grieving mother leapt down and then had to be yanked from the hole like a weed. Everyone always believes the better story eventually. Really, Pamela Goodby just thumped the coffin at the graveside service. Spanked it: two spanks. She knew that pleading would never budge her daughter, not because she was dead but because she was stubborn. All her life, the more you pleaded with Missy, the more likely she was to do something to terrify you. Pamela Goodby spanked the coffin and walked away and listened for footsteps behind her. She walked all the way home, where she took off her shoes, black pumps with worn stones of gray along the toes. "Done with you," she told them.

From "Something Amazing," by Elizabeth McCracken (Zoetrope All-Story, Spring 2008) whose memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, will be published in September by Little, Brown and Company.

Merely Decent

May Sarton

Quotes from May Sarton 
(May 3, 1912-July 16, 1995)

"One thing is certain, and I have always known it--the joys of my life have nothing to do with age."

"One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being."

"Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers."

"It always comes to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard."

"Most people have to talk so they won't hear."

"The creative person, the person who moves from an irrational source of power, has to face the fact that this power antagonizes. Under all the superficial praise of the 'creative' is the desire to kill. It is the old war between the mystic and the non-mystic, a war to the death."

"The hardest thing we are asked to do in this world is to remain aware of suffering, suffering about which we can do nothing."

I Want to be Older

jamieleecurtis “I want to be older. I actually think there’s an incredible amount of self-knowledge that comes with getting older. I feel way better now than I did when I was 20. I’m stronger, I’m smarter in every way, I’m so much less crazy than I was then.

Years ago my husband and I were at the Golden Globes. I was wearing some borrowed dress that wasn’t me, my hair was done in a way that I never wear my hair, and I had earrings on. And my husband said, ‘You know who is the most beautiful woman in the room?’ And I was hoping he was going to say me. And he pointed across the room at Jessica Tandy. She was sitting at a table wearing a cream-colored silk-shantung pantsuit. Single strand of pearls, short white hair, a little lipstick—nothing else. And I thought, ‘He’s totally right.’ There was none of the pretense, none of the trying so hard.

...The same way that mid-century modern architecture was in the ’50s, I want to be as a human being. New. Different. Challenging the old. Function over frivolity. Clean living. Clean lines."

~ Jamie Lee Curtis, AARP Magazine May & June 2008