(Steller)

A Couple Quick Things

(Journal)
Published – 05.04.2020
(Writing)

Hi, how are you holding up? I’m feeling weird and sad, so I thought I’d jump back online and share a few things that I found useful/beautiful/thought-provoking/helpful in this very strange time. If it’s useful to you, I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts and listening to some beautiful wordless music, like Brian and Roger Eno’s new record Mixing Colours. Here are some other things you might like:

This scene from Fleabag:

“I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear EVERY morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to, what band to like, what to buy tickets for, what to joke about, what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love and how to tell them. I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong — and I know that’s why people want people like you in their lives, because you just tell them how to do it. You just tell them what to do and what they’ll get out at the end of it, and even though I don’t believe your bullshit, and I know that scientifically nothing I do makes any difference in the end anyway, I’m still scared. Why am I still scared? So just tell me what to do. Just fucking tell me what to do, Father.”

Poet Wisława Szymborska on why she values the phrase “I don’t know” so highly:

“It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include spaces within us as well as the outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones, and, at best, he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know,” she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and have ended her days performing that perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.”

James Tate’s Goodtime Jesus:

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.

Jane Hirshfield’s An hour is not a house:

An hour is not a house,
a life is not a house,
you do not go through them as if
they were doors to another.Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
four walls, a ceiling.
An hour can be dropped like a glass.Some want quiet as others want bread.
Some want sleep.My eyes went
to the window, as a cat or dog left alone does.

Patrizia Cavalli’s You sit at the head of the table…

You sit at the head of the table
heady with wine,
and hold forth,
made proud by my tears.
But I’m the one who’s crying
and I won’t move.
So you get up, be useful,
pick up the plates!

David McCullough on his motto “LOOK AT YOUR FISH” in the Paris Review, via Austin Kleon:

“It’s the test that Louis Agassiz, the nineteenth-century Harvard naturalist, gave every new student. He would take an odorous old fish out of a jar, set it in a tin pan in front of the student and say, Look at your fish. Then Agassiz would leave. When he came back, he would ask the student what he’d seen. Not very much, they would most often say, and Agassiz would say it again: Look at your fish. This could go on for days. The student would be encouraged to draw the fish but could use no tools for the examination, just hands and eyes. Samuel Scudder, who later became a famous entomologist and expert on grasshoppers, left us the best account of the “ordeal with the fish.” After several days, he still could not see whatever it was Agassiz wanted him to see. But, he said, I see how little I saw before. Then Scudder had a brainstorm and he announced it to Agassiz the next morning: Paired organs, the same on both sides. Of course! Of course! Agassiz said, very pleased. So Scudder naturally asked what he should do next, and Agassiz said, Look at your fish.”

Mario Testino on improvisation:

“Life is funny. It can be so random, so you have to learn how to sway. You have to be open to what slightly puzzles you, to what you feel curious about, not just what you already like because then there’s no space to grow and become more. In Peru where I grew up there are earthquakes, and the buildings that are built to sway and move are the ones that usually survive. The ones that are too stiff tend to crack and fall down.”

Joshua Beckman’s Don’t be mad:

Don’t be mad,
I’m in bed thinking
of you at work.

Adrienne Rich on relationships:

“The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life.”

Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s daily routine:

5:30am — wake up and lie there and think
6:15am — get up and eat breakfast (lots)
7:15am — get to work writing, writing, writing
Noon — lunch
1–3pm — reading, music
3–5pm — correspondence, maybe house cleaning
5–8pm — make dinner and eat it
After 8pm — I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this

Gwendolyn Brooks’ To the young who want to die:

Sit down. Inhale. Exhale.
The gun will wait. The lake will wait.
The tall gall in the small seductive vial
will wait will wait:
will wait a week: will wait through April.
You do not have to die this certain day.
Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.
I assure you death will wait. Death has
a lot of time. Death can
attend to you tomorrow. Or next week. Death is
just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;
can meet you any moment.You need not die today.
Stay here–through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

Sandra Simonds’ Ode to Country Music:

If I wasn’t such a deadbeat, I’d learn Greek.
I wouldn’t write sonnets; I’d write epics
and odes. I’d love a man who was
acceptable and conformed to every code.
I’d put together my desk and write my epic or ode
at sunset over my suburb. How I would love my shrubs!
But all I do is listen to country (and the occasional Joni)
and smoke. Judge me judge me
judge me. Oh I’ve been through the shallows.
I shallow. I hope. I hole. I know
I wrote you the most brutal love poem that knows.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s At Last the New Arriving:

Like the horn you played in Catholic school
the city will open its mouth and cryout. Don’t worry ‘bout nothing. Don’t mean
no thing. It will leave you stunnedas a fighter with his eyes swelled shut
who’s told he won the whole damn purse.It will feel better than any floor
that’s risen up to meet you. It will riselike Easter bread, golden and familiar
in your grandmother’s hands. She’ll come back,heaven having been too far from home
to hold her. O it will be beautiful.Every girl will ask you to dance and the boys
won’t kill you for it. Shake your head.Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize
you are. What a lucky sack of stars.

Henry Miller on “the awakeners”:

“The great ones do not set up offices, charge fees, give lectures, or write books. Wisdom is silent, and the most effective propaganda for truth is the force of personal example. The great ones attract disciples, lesser figures whose mission it is to preach and teach. These are the gospelers who, unequal to the highest task, spend their lives converting others. The great ones are indifferent, in the profoundest sense. They don’t ask you to believe: they electrify you by their behavior. They are the awakeners. What you do with your life is only of concern to you, they seem to say. In short, their only purpose here on earth is to inspire. And what more can one ask of a human being than that?”

Langston Hughes’ Hope:

Sometimes when I’m lonely,
Don’t know why,
Keep thinkin’ I won’t be lonely
By and by.

Finally:

“Of the glue that binds people bent on flying apart.” I read this line and it hit me right in the heart a few months ago, and I still haven’t forgotten it. For the life of me, though, I can’t remember where I read it. If you know, will you tell me?

I’m wishing you peace and good conversations, when you have the energy for them. Go well, friends. X

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