From the category archives:

Volition

A reminder of what we will lose if we abandon exploration — despite all its costs:

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But the present is not a potential past; it is the moment of choice and action; we can not avoid living it through a project; and there is no project which is purely contemplative since one always projects himself toward something, toward the future; to put oneself “outside” is still a way of living the inescapable fact that one is inside; those French intellectuals who, in the name of history, poetry, or art, sought to rise above the drama of the age, were willy-nilly its actors; more or less explicitly, they were playing the occupier’s game. Likewise, the Italian aesthete, occupied in caressing the marbles and bronzes of Florence, is playing a political role in the life of his country by his very inertia. One can not justify all that is by asserting that everything may equally be the object of contemplation, since man never contemplates: he does.

– Simone de Beauvoir, from The Ethics of Ambiguity

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Leaping

April 5, 2010

in Poetry,Volition,Words

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

– W.H. Auden (December 1940)

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A few excerpts from Esquire’s recent profile of Roger Ebert:

Ebert is waiting for a Scottish company called CereProc to give him some of his former voice back. He found it on the Internet, where he spends a lot of his time. CereProc tailors text-to-speech software for voiceless customers so that they don’t all have to sound like Stephen Hawking. They have catalog voices — Heather, Katherine, Sarah, and Sue — with regional Scottish accents, but they will also custom-build software for clients who had the foresight to record their voices at length before they lost them. Ebert spent all those years on TV, and he also recorded four or five DVD commentaries in crystal-clear digital audio. The average English-speaking person will use about two thousand different words over the course of a given day. CereProc is mining Ebert’s TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable. When CereProc finishes its work, Roger Ebert won’t sound exactly like Roger Ebert again, but he will sound more like him than Alex does. There might be moments, when he calls for Chaz from another room or tells her that he loves her and says goodnight — he’s a night owl; she prefers mornings — when they both might be able to close their eyes and pretend that everything is as it was.

Ebert, describing what his journal means to him:

When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

On ephemeral reactions:

Anger isn’t as easy for him as it used to be. Now his anger rarely lasts long enough for him to write it down.

On crime, and joy:

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Roger Ebert is a great example of what the so-called New Atheists have never understood: that living well is a far better way to ‘evangelize’ freethinking than pedantic and vitriolic argument, however rational it may be.

To the extent that humanists might imagine having saints, Mr. Ebert is surely one of them.

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El Perro

El Perro (1819-23)

Robert Hughes:

“Goya was one of those uncommon artists who had the daring, or the folly, to take on the whole scale of human fate. It was a huge scale, and nobody works on it today, because our sense of the possibility of art — what it can do, what it can say, and why it can matter — is so depleted. But it never occurred to Goya that art might not be able to say anything and everything about our nature, our desires and our fears. He just assumed that it could, and he went ahead. And by assuming it, he left us with the difficult task of living up to his peculiar intensity. And if we can’t, as is likely, at least he shows us that. Nearly two hundred years after he died, to meet Goya, is still to meet ourselves. “

Goya and his doctor

Goya and his doctor

At the bottom of the painting:

“Goya agradecido á su amigo Arrieta: por el acierto y esmero con q.e le salvo la vida en su aguda y peligrosa enfermedad, padecida á fines del año 1819, a los setenta y tres años de su edad. Lo pintó en 1820.”

Google’s attempted translation:

“Goya grateful to his friend Arrieta: for the wisdom and care with [...] saved his life in his acute and dangerous illness suffered at the end of 1819, at seventy – three years of age. It was painted in 1820.”

And a reminder:

"I am still learning"

From sometime in the last four years of his life

The translation of Aún aprendo: “I am still learning.”

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From Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson:

“What kills the writer, in the end, is the absence of a direct causal relationship between effort and reward. Thus it is rarely true *work*, in any way our bodies can understand. A free day, all the kids off to their grandmother’s, the house deathly quiet; half an hour’s meditation; a cafetière of Costa Rica in the study; no sound but the rain dripping from the trees in the back garden through the open window….And I cannot introduce two words to one another without them falling out immediately. Today, feeling exhausted, ill, overweight, the house full of yelling, my mind a roiling broth of fear and resentment and professional jealousy — a dozen problems I have pored over for weeks have been solved in twenty minutes flat. I end the day feeling worse than ever, as if I had accomplished nothing at all.”

From the Songs for Drella collaboration between John Cale and Lou Reed, which reflected on their time with Andy Warhol:

“No matter what I did, it never seemed enough,
He said I was lazy, I said I was young.
He said “How many songs did you write?”
I’d written zero, I lied, and said “Ten.”

“You won’t be young forever –
You should have written fifteen!
It’s work!”

….

Andy said a lot of things,
I stored ‘em all away in my head.
Sometimes, when I can’t decide what I should do
I think: “What would Andy have said?”

He’d probably say: “You think too much!
That’s cause there’s work — that you don’t want to do!
It’s work. The most important thing is work.
It’s work. The most important thing is work.”

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I never expected to post any cat pictures on this particular blog, but there are moments for everything. And when a form reaches a pinnacle like this, lines must be crossed, and implied rules tossed.

(Why not throw in a facile and silly rhyme, too?)

It is a slightly misshapen watermelon...

It is a slightly misshapen watermelon...

I don’t know who took this picture, or how or why. (I found it via reddit.com)

But I identify with this cat, its absurd situation, and the look of determination on its face despite its surreal and quasi-Sisyphean task. (I’m projecting, of course.)

Cribbing from some anonymous Wikipedian:

Albert Camus, in his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, sees Sisyphus as personifying the absurdity of human life, but concludes “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” as “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

Or, perhaps, a cat’s heart.

Keep pushing, little watermelon cat. I imagine you happy.

Or at least out of the water, with your nose buried deep in that watermelon.

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“The things that make you strong, and make you feel as though you’ve accomplished something, are not the easy ones; it’s the things you had to work and struggle through. Those are what give us our depth—that make us not just gray and plain and nothing, but give us depth and texture and longing.”

Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the emergency-room doctor who discovered she had breast cancer while over-wintering in Antarctica in 1999, died June 23rd. She was 57.

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Irrepressible

Irrepressible

By fascists — with batons — this mark was made.
Her smile says: “Our resistance will not fade.”

Wishing the people of Iran all the best in your struggle for your human rights to freely express yourselves and be treated with dignity.

The world admires your courage.

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Mocking Myself for Planting Trees

At seventy I still plant trees,
but don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!

– Qing dynasty poet Yuan Mei (1716-1798)

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From a Paris Review interview with Kay Ryan:

INTERVIEWER
Did you always believe in your work, even at an early stage?

RYAN
Especially at an early stage. I just didn’t know how badly I was doing. That was a blessing. I don’t know how I would have survived if I hadn’t thought that everybody was stupid not to think that it was as good as I thought it was. Still I had to defend it, because there is nothing legitimate about being a beginning writer. I had to treat it with respect and learn my craft.

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Bre Prettis and Kio Stark have written a 13-point Cult of Done Manifesto. Examples:

2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.

6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.

9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.

Here’s one of the visual depictions, by James Provost:

Done Manifesto

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“A drop of rain dripping from the clouds
Felt ashamed when it saw the vastness of the sea:
‘Where there is a sea, what am I!
If it is there, then I am nowhere.’
When it saw itself with humility
An oyster adopted it and nourished it with heart:
Fate carried on its work to such an extent
That it became a celebrated pearl, befitting a king.
It attained sublimeness when it humbled itself;
Knocking at the door of non-existence, it became
existent.”

– Saadi (Translated by Mirza Aqil-Husain) from Persian Poets

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From “Writing in the Dark” by Moody Black:

“…deep in their spirits they know
that weeping may endure for a night
but joy –
joy’s going to come in the morning.

But I was never a morning person
until the electric company
cut off my lights…

After one of my performances
a young lady told me:
‘I’d give my whole life
to write and perform
beautifully as you.’

I said:
‘Ma’am, I have.’”

Listen to the whole poem on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast.

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At 21, Chameli Waiba learned to spell her own name for the first time:

“But I saw that the number of people learning to read and write was growing — and their lives were improving. I then realized it was neither wealth nor beauty that I lacked, but letters.”

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