Saturday, June 03, 2023

You Listen

You listen for the right word, in the present, and you hear it. Once you’re into a story everything seems to apply—what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you’re writing. Eudora Welty

Go a Little out of your Depth

Go a little out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting. David Bowie

Obsessions and Passions

That to me is really the crucial thing, somehow having your work connect with your obsessions and your passions.

Tom Perrotta

Listening for them

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

Eudora Welty

calm myself and center my consciousness.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, coffee and caffeinated sodas raise the volume on my already elevated mood. Although alcohol is a depressant, it acts like a stimulant in my body when I’m hypomanic.

I’ve heard that meditation is helpful for people experiencing hypomania. It may work for you, but if I’m hypomanic, I can’t sit still long enough to do it. Being alone with my thoughts is impossible.
However, I’ve found that yoga is a great alternative. Yoga forces me to be mindful of my body and my breathing, and that allows me to calm myself and center my consciousness.
Because yoga involves movement, and it’s physically strenuous without being high-impact, I’ve found I can do yoga even while my mind is racing. I see it as a physical challenge, and it’s relaxing to stretch my body and then release poses.
I take yoga classes so I’m not in charge of disciplining myself, and by engaging in a group environment, I’m pulled out of my own head. source
Carrie Cantwell

To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it.

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

– Joan Didion, UC Riverside commencement address (1975).

A Place

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image. – Joan Didion, The White Album (1979)

noticing things and writing them down

You get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something. –Joan Didion The Paris Review interview (2006).

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. – Joan Didion   Self-respect: Its Source, Its Power (essay originally published in Vogue in 1961) 

Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs. – Joan Didion   Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)    

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. – Joan Didion  Why I Write (essay originally published in the New York Times Book Review in 1976)     

You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from. – Joan Didion   A Book of Common Prayer (1977)

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. – Joan Didion  The White Album (1979)

Friday, June 02, 2023

When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished. Czeslaw Milosz


After months of searching, Louise and John settled on one, well off the road, in a former pickle factory. Fully climate controlled and best of all assigned parking.

No lawns to mow, no snow to shovel. No trash barrels out to the curb. There's even Girl's Night and a rec room with ping pong, Louise said, showing off their lonely penthouse patio view. With a coating of snow it looked like the Sahara. Desolate. Quiet.

The living room had been painted dark green. There was an electric fireplace, a thin wall plaque below the flat screen TV. Louise turned it on to demonstrate the flames. Not exactly snuggly, Alice thought. A controlled hearth - sound and warmth but fake flames. Atmosphere without the hassle, under glass like a butterfly specimen. Alice's husband Gerald pretended to burn his hand.

A young wealthy lawyer owned the place before us. He hired a designer to make all of the decisions, Louise said. So don't blame me for his taste in decor.

I do love the twin red leather chairs! Alice said.

We bought them from him. He said make me an offer. He left the plants too. Devil's Ivy and a Snake plant.

Figures a lawyer would own house plants with those names, Alice thought. It's so quiet, for a fully occupied building. No echo, even with lofted ceilings, Alice said, walking in a large circle and gazing upward.

We're completely soundproof! Louise said, scooping Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream into four maroon glazed pottery bowls. Indeed, the only sound was the occasional crash of the automatic ice machine. Continuous ice, no more filling trays. It's a game changer! Louise had explained.

Alice and Gerald took seats at the table. My neighbor lives in a renovated former school house. There was a murder-suicide there two years ago. Nobody knew for a few weeks. The neighbors were surprised that they hadn't heard the gunshots. Completely soundproof, Alice said.

Well that's a lovely story, Alice, John said, scooping another helping of ice cream, emptying the container.

We brought you both a housewarming present. A book, Alice said, handing them a small shopping bag.

It's Krishnamurti, explained Gerald.

He's not a Hare Krishna is he? John asked.

No. A philosopher. Amazing. Open anywhere you'll see.

Oh I like books like that, Louise said. I keep Thich Nhat Hanh in the bathroom.

I'm creeped out, Alice said on the way home, driving slow in the snow. She loved how the stop signs appeared black and white, and how the headlights caught the falling flakes. There's only one entrance and the only two windows don't open. It's claustrophobic. It's a gigantic shoe box like those dioramas you make in 3rd grade with one side cut open. And that kitchen and all of those rooms without a  single window, no sense of day or night. It's a submarine! A stage set! 

They drove for a bit in silence. And the kind of books I love are ones she only reads on the toilet! Did you catch that?

I did. It's funny, actually. That's about all she can handle, Gerald said. Hey, it's a start, it's better than nothing.

At home Alice heard her neighbor shoveling. A distant siren. In the morning she heard birds, traffic. Kids waiting at the bus stop.

I need signs of life, Alice said, sipping her coffee. I don't want to live in a padded bubble. We do hear fights, shouting, motorcycles, and loud music. You take the good with the bad but I would not trade it for a padded muffled box. A fucking submarine.

To each his own, Gerald said. Some folks want their asses pampered in old age. It's the big reward for chasing money their whole life.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it.

  ― Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. Simone Weil

Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached.
Simone Weil

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”
Simone Weil

“If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.”
Simone Weil

“All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.”
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

“Everything beautiful has a mark of eternity.”
Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy

J. Krishnamurti

Psychologically we have time because we do not know how to die to a problem. To die to a problem is not to continue it and carry it over to tomorrow. A problem exists only when you are not capable of looking at the fact.

From Public Talk 7, Madras, 13 December 1961

Mr. Clean

He was tall, muscular, and bald. He looked like Mr. Clean. He kept his fins and pool buoy in a black mesh bag at the front of his lane. He would place his Rolex on deck next to the bag as if daring someone to swipe it.

He wasn't much of a swimmer. He preferred lifting weights, sculpting his abs. He spent time on the pool deck posing, scanning the water looking for a female audience. He'd finally enter the water and discretely remove his baggy outer bathing suit, revealing the tight one.

He'd swim on his back, kicking long blue fins, not moving his arms. He'd switch to yellow short fins for no particular reason. Perhaps to appear as if he knew something about swimming. The pool buoy was merely a prop.

The real reason he came to the pool was to hunt women, married women. He divorced at 62. Meeting women now was like high-school dating all over again, only worse. Because he was actually terrified of people. Of women. Deep down he was really a child, terrified of his brutal asshole father.

He carried a gun. Professionally, of course, as part of his employment. But still, the only way he could have total control in social settings was to have that gun nearby. He watched every documentary on serial killers he could find. That was his passion. His favorite killer was the guy who kept his victims' body parts in a freezer.

His ex-wife had finally thrown him out of the house. She found out that he'd been depriving the dog of food. "He's being disobedient!" yelled Mr. Clean. "He didn't bring me my slippers! He doesn't deserve food!"

"That's it!" his wife said. "We're done here! Get out now!" she hollered. "You have the truck. I keep the dog. And the house. And I'm getting a restraining order."

"Whaaat?" he yelled back, "just because I kept the damn dog from his damn supper?"

"That's right," she said without raising her voice. And that was that.

Daily Battle

Whatever your optimum hours are, don’t cheat yourself of them. This is a daily battle. If you spend them answering the phone, attending to correspondence, etc., you’ll find yourself empty-handed and out of sorts during your low tide.

Amy Wallace

Monday, May 29, 2023

Standard Time

Outside, the neighborhood smelled like imitation grape candy. So this is the new scent of laundry?

They said four, we're fashionably late, Brian said, pushing open the gate.

All set, Sylvia said, fluffing her hair checking her lipstick in the visor mirror. She climbed out of the passenger seat holding the bottle of wine with a red ribbon tied at the neck.

Every shrub and lawn was manicured to perfection. To lunacy. New England's version of Beverly Hills. Is this what they want? It's a mask, she told herself. I grew up in a town like this. I hated it. I still hate it. Give me urban walk-able colorful noisy diverse, give me ghetto!

Sylvia, come join us, Vanessa said, trying too hard. We're talking about breathing. The book I'm reading is amazing. It's called Breathe! How to become wealthy successful well-rested and stay young by breathing right.

Eh, I always sleep with my mouth open, Sylvia said, dipping the broccoli floret into the baba ghanoush.  I drool too. Vanessa's husband Marvin snickered, sipping his scotch. Ah yes the dirty mind. Sylvia always got there first.

Just duct tape your mouth closed! Vanessa suggested, pouring more sangria into her own glass. She slipped an orange slice in, splashing a little wine onto the white tablecloth. It will force you to breathe through your nose. Her silver bangles clanked against the blue blown-glass pitcher. Vanessa wore a turquoise mu-mu print dress imported from India. Her arms were tan.

Sylvia pictured herself in bed with Marvin, her mouth covered in silver duct tape. The room illuminated by moonlight. No thanks she thought. That's violent. That's insane. This is why she hated parties. The hostess thinks she's a genius. Sylvia thinks she's rude. One year Sylvia arrived came on time and was handed a vacuum cleaner. She was never on time again after that.

On the drive home Sylvia asked Brian, did you hear what she said about the duct tape?  Well, she's always been a little psychologically violent raising her daughter, Brian said. This is how she thinks.

And she's just a genius because it's her flagstone patio and her guacamole.

You can always have your own party, Brian said

I hate parties! Sylvia said as they turned off the highway. The digital clock in the car glowed. 

It's 1AM she said.

Standard time, it's actually midnight.

Desperation or Revenge

She [Elizabeth Hardwick] told our class that there were really only two reasons to write: desperation or revenge. She told us that if we couldn’t take rejection, if we couldn’t be told no, then we couldn’t be writers. DARRYL PINCKNEY

I don’t trust an abstract painter unless I know that he can do hands.

The writers I like and trust have at the base of their prose something called the English sentence. An awful lot of modern writing seems to me to be a depressed use of language. Once, I called it “vow-of-poverty prose.” No, give me the king in his countinghouse. Give me Updike. Anthony Burgess said there are two kinds of writers, A-writers and B-writers. A-writers are storytellers, B-writers are users of language. And I tend to be grouped in the Bs. Under Nabokov’s prose, under Burgess’s prose, under my father’s prose—his early rather than his later prose—the English sentence is like a poetic meter. It’s a basic rhythm from which the writer is free to glance off in unexpected directions. But the sentence is still there. To be crude, it would be like saying that I don’t trust an abstract painter unless I know that he can do hands. 


I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to teach me how to write.

I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to teach me how to write. That’s my own taste. I prefer to stumble on it. I prefer to go on trying all kinds of things, not to be told, This is the way it is done.