Thursday, October 30, 2008


eunoiaEunoia is the shortest word in English containing all five vowels—and it means ‘beautiful thinking.’ It is also the title of Canadian poet Christian Bök's book of fiction in which each chapter uses only one vowel. Mr Bök believes his book proves that each vowel has its own personality, and demonstrates the flexibility of the English language.”

~ “Beautiful Vowels,” BBC Radio 4 Today (11.30.08)

From Chapter E 

for René Crevel

Westerners revere the Greek legends. Versemen retell the represented events, the resplendent scenes, where, hellbent, the Greek freemen seek revenge whenever Helen, the new-wed empress, weeps. Restless, she deserts her fleece bed where, detested, her wedded regent sleeps. When she remembers Greece, her seceded demesne, she feels wretched, left here, bereft, her needs never met. She needs rest; nevertheless, her demented fevers render her sleepless (her sleeplessness enfeebles her). She needs help; nevertheless her stressed nerves render her cheerless (her cheerlessness enfetters her).

[Arigato Dōshin!]

Ball of Light

"Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand."

~ Ezra Pound

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Patience of Ordinary Things

by Pat Schneider, from Another River: New and Selected Poems

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Able to Stay

From What It Is by Lynda Barry:





Sunday, October 26, 2008


Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow."

~ From “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow,” TED Talks (Filmed Feb. 2004, Posted Oct. 2008))


How does it feel to be in flow?

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing—focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy—of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Greater inner clarity—knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable—that our skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity—no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness—thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
  7. Intrinsic motivation—whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

That Feeling that Comes From Giving

"Imagine I gave you a hundred rupees, and I gave your sister a hundred rupees and told you to buy whatever you want. You buy a shirt, she buys a dress. But how would you feel if she opens her bag and you see that she bought you a shirt, and you bought her a dress. You'd still have a shirt, but that feeling - that feeling that comes from giving. No one understands that anymore."

~ Nana Patekar, from The Pool, directed by Chris Smith


by Sharon Olds, from One Secret Thing

One Secret Thing

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought was the truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face –
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

To Know Ourselves

"Of course it’s simplistic to say that good sad plays are moral or emotional tonics, like fiber cereal for the soul. But on some level it is fundamentally true. Escapist entertainment can offer fleeting rewards, but in the long run only art really nourishes. Sure, it’s sweet to daydream our way into the worlds inhabited by George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, but it’s more important for us all to know ourselves. Great theater, like much high art, tells us who we are, not who we would like to be.

You could make the argument — well, I could, anyway — that some of the havoc caused by the subprime mortgage crisis can be traced to a collective amnesia on the part of the powers that be about the essence of human nature."

~ Charles Isherwood, "A Healthy Dose of Misery for Company," New York Times (10.26.08)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

To Give Something That Isn’t Crap

“I want to give something to the world that isn’t crap because I think it’s a toxic thing to put crap into the world. And all I can do in that regard is try to be honest – from where I stand, in my point of view, at this point in time. What do I think? What do I know?”

~ Charlie Kaufman on Studio 360 (10.24.08)

Listen to the whole interview:

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Will Never Know

Excerpt from "Never Say Die: Why We Can't Imagine Death," by Jesse Bering, Scientific American Mind (October 2008):

The brain is like any other organ: a part of our physical body. And the mind is what the brain does—it’s more a verb than it is a noun. Why do we wonder where our mind goes when the body is dead? Shouldn’t it be obvious that the mind is dead, too?

And yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem.

...our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it’s this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start.

iceberg Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce.

Check out Jesse Bering's Psychology Today blog, Quirky Little Things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


While your name continues to be scribbled
onto lists along with addicts,
embezzlers, unfaithful spouses,
and others in need of divine intervention,
by well-meaning people
who refuse to rest until
arrangements have been made
to spend eternity together
in spite of having little to talk about over dinner,
you might be surprised when
a cranky, hard drinking, gnarled,
retired iron worker pushing ninety,
takes your hand and the hand
of the son of his son,
the person who shares your groceries
your gender,
your heart,
and wishes you not only a safe trip home,
but a good life together.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch "I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn't flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work."

~ Ursula LeGuin

Friday, October 17, 2008


"I love poetry for the unemployment it causes, for how it constrains one to work always beyond one's own intelligence, for its not requiring one to rise socially."

~ Les Murray

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Intention

“The subject is very serious. It’s ever-present and I think it’s obviously everybody’s life and everybody’s experience: Everybody deals with the continuum of getting older and death and the regret that comes with more and more life passing by…It’s a person’s life, and it takes it to the end, and all that comes with that. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but I don’t know if it has a sad ending, either. It’s a curious ending, and there are things to think about, and there are things that happen toward the end of the movie that are odd and, I think, raise questions. Questions about what it means to be an individual, or what it means to be old or what it means to lose yourself or find a connection or all those things that are part of a person’s life. You don’t necessarily have to come out of it feeling devastated. It wasn’t my intention. I really had no intention at all.”

~ Charlie Kaufman, talking about his new film, Synecdoche, New York, in Paste Magazine (Nov. 2008)

Outhuman the Humans

"Autists are described by others — and by themselves — as aliens among humans. But there's an irony to this, for precisely the opposite is true. They are us, and to understand them is to begin to understand what it means to be human. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. But autism is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an overexpression of the very traits that make our species unique. Other animals are social, but only humans are capable of abstract logic. The autistic outhuman the humans, and we can scarcely recognize the result."

~ Paul Collins, from Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism

Willing to be Lost

Excerpt from Ron Carlson Writes a Story:

Ron Carlson Writes a Story

The single largest advantage a veteran writer has over the beginner is this tolerance for not knowing. It’s not style, skill, or any other dexterity. An experienced writer has been in those woods before and is willing to be lost; she knows that being lost is necessary for the discoveries to come. The seasoned writer waits, is patient, listens to her story as it talks to her. Now I’ve started being a little mystical here, and I want to avoid the sense that writing is magic and not work. The story isn’t going to talk to you, but things are going to happen in the heat of writing that cannot be predicted from outside the act itself. Much of a writer’s work is exploration, and that involves so many things he cannot know from the outside. And we all agree that it is more comfortable to be outside the story considering it, than inside the story struggling to see it. Comfort isn’t an issue.


A daughter is not a passing cloud, but permanent,
holding earth and sky together with her shadow.
She sleeps upstairs like mystery in a story,
blowing leaves down the stairs, then cold air, then warm.
We who at sixty should know everything, know nothing.
We become dull and disoriented by uncertain weather.
We kneel, palms together, before this blossoming altar.

~ James Lenfestey, from American Life in Poetry: Column 186

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Good Thing No Matter How Small

“When something bad happens, we have to do a good thing no matter how small otherwise the bad things pile up and up.”

~ Claire (Laura Linney) from the film Jindabyne, an adaption of Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water So Close to Home.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meditation and Stress

From “Compassion Meditation May Improve Physical and Emotional Responses to Psychological Stress,” Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Emory University (10.08.08):

Data from a new study suggests that individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses.

"While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices designed to specifically foster compassion," says Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, who designed and taught the meditation program used in the study. Negi is senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, the co-director of Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies and president and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.

This study focused on the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.

"Our findings suggest that meditation practices designed to foster compassion may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and are relevant to disease," explains Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program, Emory University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine, and a lead author on the study.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Katie Reider

I was moved last night by the story of a young folk singer from the area who died this summer after a two-year battle with cancer. Katie’s family set up a memorial project to spread the word about her life and music. Their goal is to introduce 500,000 people to her music over the next year

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Audience is Always Right

Director William Friedkin discussing what makes films successful (from the special features included on the Bug DVD):

William Friedkin “The week after Sorcerer came out, Star Wars opened and completely changed the kind of films that audiences wanted to see – by the multimillions. Sorcerer was almost a dividing point between the past and the future. That’s one reason why it didn’t do better. But always, when a film does well or badly, it’s always the fault of the film and the audience is always right. Which is not to say anything about the quality of the film, but about what the audience wants or doesn’t want. They know what they want.

The directors or filmmakers or producers who have been successful over and over again are those that have an inherent feeling of the zeitgeist. I at one time had that so I know what it is. Around the time I made The French Connection and The Exorcist, that was the zeitgeist and I just rode along with it. Those were the films that I wanted to see. I felt if somebody could make a film like that, I would see it. And that’s how the audience felt. And I know what the zeitgeist is now, but I’m not interested in any way in pursuing it.”

Real Life

Kristin Scott Thomas "Everything should be as in real life."

~ Anton Chekhov to the cast of the first production of The Seagull, St. Petersburg, 1896

Friday, October 10, 2008

Use the Internet to Get Off the Internet


Unplug Your Friends!
From Meetup

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Adding It Up

by Phillip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems, 1950-1999

lifelines My mind's eye opens before
the light gets up. I
lie awake in the small dark,
figuring payments, or how
to scrape paint; I count
rich women I didn't marry.
I measure bicycle miles
I pedaled last Thursday
to take off weight; I give some
passing thought to the point
that if I hadn't turned poet
I might well be some other
sort of accountant. Before
the sun reports its own weather
my mind is openly at it:
I chart my annual rainfall.
or how I'll plant seed if
I live to be fifty. I look up
words like "bilateral symmetry"
in my mind's dictionary; I consider
the bivalve mollusk, re-pick
last summer's mussels on Condon Point,
preview the next red tide, and
hold my breath: I listen hard
to how my heart valves are doing.
I try not to get going
too early: bladder permitting,
I mean to stay in bed until six;
I think in spirals, building
horizon pyramids, yielding to
no man's flag but my own.
I think of Saul Steinberg:
I play touch football on one leg,
I seesaw on the old cliff, trying
to balance things out: job,
wife, children, myself.
My mind's eye opens before
my body is ready for its
first duty: cleaning up after
an old-maid Basset in heat.
That, too, I inventory:
the Puritan strain will out,
even at six a.m.; sun or no sun,
I'm Puritan to the bone, down to
the marrow and then some:
if I'm not sorry I worry,
if I can't worry I count.

The Places We Have Known

Swann's Way “What a contradiction it is to search in reality for memory’s pictures, which would never have the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from not being perceived by the senses. The reality I had no longer existed. That Mme. Swann did not arrive exactly the same at the same moment was enough to make the Avenue different. The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years.”

~ Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Monday, October 06, 2008

Intrinsically Comic

Alphabet Juice"Language seems to me intrinsically comic — noises of the tongue, lips, larynx, and palate rendered in ink on paper with the deepest and airiest thoughts in mind and the harshest and tenderest feelings at heart."

~ Roy Blount Jr.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


From "Emotional Buildup," by Jake Halpern, New York Times Real Estate Magazine (10.05.08):

In theory, the Akerses didn’t know we were coming. They were told only that they were one of five families from the Cincinnati area who had been chosen as finalists. This, in itself, was a coup. Endemol USA, the production company that makes the show, receives as many as 1,000 applications a week either from or about families who have suffered a tragedy or hardship and are seeking a new home.

Bobby Fletcher photographed by Andreanna Seymore for The New York Times.

...The only spectators allowed on this day were neighbors, a handful of local volunteers and the Akerses’ extended family. I chatted with Judy ‘‘Bobby’’ Fletcher, the 65-year-old grandmother of the Akers children. She told me she had been here since before dawn, on her knees in a neighbor’s driveway, repeating a simple prayer: ‘‘Please allow ABC to be led to this family.’’ For more than two years, the congregants at Fletcher’s church had maintained a ‘‘prayer chain’’ in which they took turns praying — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — for the executives at ABC to select the Akerses. Several local churches had similar prayer appeals.

Eventually the bus carrying Pennington rounded the corner. The crowd let out a collective gasp, several volunteers began to sob and virtually everyone took out a camera-equipped cellphone to document the moment. I glanced over at Fletcher, who was standing next to me, looking faint. ‘‘I saw the bus, heard the screams, and I went into an out-of-body experience,’’ she later told me. ‘‘I was watching it, but I wasn’t a part of it.’’

A Visceral Need for Order

From Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered (10.03.08):

New research shows that when people perceive they have no control over a given situation, they are more likely to see illusions, patterns where none exist and even believe in conspiracy theories. The study suggests that people impose imaginary order when no real order can be perceived.

"People see false patterns in all types of data," says Jennifer Whitson, one of the authors of the report, "This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order — even imaginary order."

Whitson is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business in the University of Texas-Austin.

Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky

In short, people who felt that the world was beyond their control became so hungry for patterns and connections that their minds started just making them up.

But Whitson also found one way to help people who are feeling powerless to see the world the way it really is. In a different experiment, she asked volunteers who were feeling a lack of control to talk about a personal value that they consider important.

When these people were shown fuzzy, meaningless images, they did not see imaginary objects.

Maybe this could help in real life, Whitson says. When you're feeling powerless, maybe you should stop and think about what you really care about — something you do have control over.

Nothing Less Than the World Itself

Below is an excerpt from a beautiful essay, "The Ambition of the Short Story," written by Steven Millhauser whose recent collection of short stories, Dangerous Laughter, was reviewed back in February:

In a world ruled by swaggering novels, smallness has learned to make its way cautiously. We will have to intuit its secret. I imagine the short story harboring a wish. I imagine the short story saying to the novel: You can have everything — everything — all I ask is a single grain of sand. The novel, with a careless shrug, a shrug both cheerful and contemptuous, grants the wish.

But that grain of sand is the story’s way out. That grain of sand is the story’s salvation. I take my cue from William Blake: “All the world in a grain of sand.” From A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder by Gary Greenberg.Think of it: the world in a grain of sand; which is to say, every part of the world, however small, contains the world entirely. Or to put it another way: if you concentrate your attention on some apparently insignificant portion of the world, you will find, deep within it, nothing less than the world itself. In that single grain of sand lies the beach that contains the grain of sand. In that single grain of sand lies the ocean that dashes against the beach, the ship that sails the ocean, the sun that shines down on the ship, the interstellar winds, a teaspoon in Kansas, the structure of the universe. And there you have the ambition of the short story, the terrible ambition that lies behind its fraudulent modesty: to body forth the whole world. The short story believes in transformation. It believes in hidden powers.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Body Electric

From Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer:

Modern neuroscience is now discovering the anatomy underlying Whitman's poetry. It has taken his poetic hypothesis--the idea that feelings begin in the flesh--and found the exact nerves and brain regions that make it true. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist who has done extensive work on the etiology of feeling, calls this process the body loop. In his view, the mind stalks the flesh; from our muscles we steal our moods.

How does the brain generate our metaphysical feelings from the physical body? According to Damasio, after an "emotive stimulus" (such as a bear) is seen, the brain automatically triggers a wave of changes in the "physical viscera," as the body prepares for action. The heart begins to pound, arteries dilate, the intestines contract, the adrenaline pours into the bloodstream. These bodily changes are then detected by the cortex, which connects them to the scary sensation that caused the changes in the first place. The resulting mental image—an emulsion of thought and flesh, body and soul—is what we feel. It is an idea that has passed through the vessel of the body.

Over the course of his distinguished career, Damasio has chronicled the lives of patients whose brains have been injured and who, as a result, are missing this intricate body-brain connection. Although they maintain full sensory awareness, these patients are unable to translate their sensations into emotions. The pounding of the heart never becomes a feeling of fear. Because the mind is divorced from the flesh, the patient lives in a cocoon of numbness—numb even to his or her own tragedy.

Damasio's research has elaborated on the necessity of our carnal emotions. His conclusions are Whitmanesque. "The body contributes more than life support," Damasio writes. "It contributes a content that is part and parcel of the workings of the normal mind." In fact, even when the body does not literally change, the mind creates a feeling by hallucinating a bodily change. Damasio calls this the as-if body loop, since the brain acts as if the body were experiencing a real physical event. By imagining a specfic bodily state—like a fast heartbeat, or a surge of adrenaline—the mind can indue its own emotions.

One of Damasio's most surprising discoveries is that the feelings generated by the body are an essential element of rational thought. Although we typically assume that our emotions interfere with reason, Damasio's emotionless patients proved incapable of making reasonable decisions. After suffering their brain injuries, all began displaying disturbing changes in behavior. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; others became dishonest and antisocial; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details. According to Damasio, their frustrating lives are vivid proof that rationality requires feeling, and feeling requires the body. (As Nietzsche put it, "There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.")

Life's Redemption

Wallace Stevens"After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption."

~ Wallace Stevens