Category Archives: inspiration

five dials

Five Dials is a digital literary magazine. Each issue is excellent (especially the Paris issue, the David Foster Wallace issue, and the Festival issue). The latest, Number 14, is a single essay by Orhan Pamuk entitled My Father’s Suitcase. Not only is the essay about a father and a son, but “it’s about literature and the reasons a person might choose to sit at a desk all day making marks on a page”.

So many wonderful moments in such a small space; a must-read, for writers and readers and anyone who feels a little more human, a little more connected, a little less alone when surrounded by words on pages.


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“i can’t say it”

Lucky me, getting to attend two Jonsi shows in one year.  Yesterday’s show was just as moving and entertaining and beautiful as the first; a stunning backdrop with still and moving images projected onto it, all kinds of lights (flashing at times, strobe-ing at times, still/off at times), and above all, absolutely gorgeous music filling every inch of the old theater we were standing together in.

It’s tough to describe his show, let alone his music – do explore some of the videos on his website (or these on Pitchfork) if you’re interested. It’s also tough to process both his show and his music…last night, we all just stood around after it ended, not quite sure what to feel or say or do. I had mixed feelings – half of me felt incredibly alone and overwhelmed, while the other half wanted to seize every opportunity presented by every moment and just  stay awake and alive forever – I felt like I’d just been shown and told that the world is, indeed, a place overflowing with beauty and joy and grace.

Anyways. I was reminded of this passage I came across a few weeks ago, one I’d been waiting for the right time to share:

When I look at my life and its secret colours, I feel like bursting into tears. Like that sky. It’s rain and sun both, noon and midnight… I think of the lips I’ve kissed, and of the wretched child I was, and of the madness of life and the ambition that sometimes carries me away. I’m all those things at once. I’m sure there are times when you wouldn’t even recognize me. Extreme in misery, excessive in happiness – I can’t say it.

–from Albert Camus’ A Happy Death

Haven’t we all felt this way? So overwhelmed in ways both good and bad, so much so that we fear we won’t be recognized, even by those we stand in front of.

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And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I’ll be back, soon. Summer has slipped away and fall has snuck in and a (my) new year begins tomorrow. There’s so much that’s happened, and so much to share; what better time than now, to start chipping away at the mountain of stories and photos and books and films and restaurants and moments I’ve been writing and seeing and reading and experiencing and storing up, keeping to myself. Ditching perfection and plans, this time around. We’ll see where this thing goes.

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late fragment

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

-Raymond Carver

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the writing life

I’ve been working, the past few months, on my writing – on the thing I love more than most anything, the thing I depend on to interpret and explain the world around me, the thing that becomes almost burdensome (that becomes actual work) when neglected and over-thought. I’m still in the midst of a semi-permanent affair with the short story, but have found myself drifting quite naturally towards a mangled, skeletal version of prose poetry, as well as testing the flash fiction/short short waters. I’ll confess to struggling with keeping a consistent schedule, with fretting over the imperfect written results of ideas that are perfect in my head (which often leads to abandoning the idea altogether), with motivation and laziness and most importantly, with inspiration. I get all tangled up in this “what the heck am I going to write about” mentality and end up not writing anything. For days. Weeks. And if I step back and examine the effects of “not writing”, of not creating and exploring and imagining and nurturing this thing I love…they are severe.

Back to the lack of inspiration issue: I’ve realized/become aware it’s actually a non-issue. I simply use it as an excuse, a justification for not writing. Which is such a waste and such a lie, when stories stare me down daily, begging to be written. I see them everywhere, everyday, and think “there’s a story” or “I should write about that, about him or her, about this place“. And I collect little ideas and moments in a nice neat pile, until the pile grows to an overwhelming height and topples into a cluttered jumbled heap. And nothing is written.

I’m fumbling my way slowly towards change; towards a place where I create and share and connect with others, with an underlying hope that we’ll walk away gripping a better understanding of the world and the things we see and feel while we’re part of it. Sharing alone is a step, for me…a toe dipped cautiously in an icy lake, a timid invitation extended to an acquaintance, a hesitant departure down a path whose end cannot be seen.

Arriving at “the point”…inspiration has been everywhere for me, recently. Just watching: people giving and receiving directions on a crowded street. People sharing things: passing plates during meals, huddling under a single umbrella.  People running when they shouldn’t be, after buses, through stores, down stairs…wanting an explanation for the overwhelming excitement or fear propelling them forward at such an unnatural speed. People falling asleep (or fighting to stay awake) in public places…slipping into such a vulnerable, pure state amongst strangers.

And the tiniest woman, who sat across from me on a late-night bus. She sat so still, so close to the window, clutching a single pink rose in a plastic shell, the kind you’d grab as an after-thought from the grocery store check-out line. But the way she held it, you’d think it were the last rose in the world, the most precious item anyone could possess. The biggest black plastic-framed glasses balanced on her nose, swallowed most of her face. Her hair was short and neat and gray, her mouth a small thin line resting above her chin. She wore black; a simple black coat, with simple black knit gloves covering her hands and simple black shoes dusted white with street salt dangling just above the ground. She’d fixed her gaze straight ahead ages ago and held it there, calm, patient, determined. Her eyes would close gently now and then, her only detectable movement. We rode together for ten minutes, and I realized that during that short time I’d built up the highest hopes for her. I left the bus hoping so hard that the recipient of that pink rose, which had suddenly become the sweetest most thoughtful gesture I could imagine, would gush with gratitude, would thank her and draw her in and hold her tight. Hoping so hard that she wasn’t lonely, that she wasn’t mourning but celebrating something, anything…hoping her stillness and silence was a temporary shield from the outside world, a shell she’d shed as soon as she encountered a familiar face. I was surprised, at how affected I was by an unassuming ordinary stranger, at the lump in my throat I forced down quick. And in my confusion I was reminded that I have a way to explore these moments, a way to dissect and rebuild and interpret them to see what’s lurking just below their surfaces. I was reminded that writing really isn’t an option or a choice, for me; it’s a need. I must write.

Anticipating and hoping that occasionally sharing moments like these, that forcing myself to craft sentences and attribute language to images and emotions, will nudge me along that path, that road carefully paved with story after story, whose end I cannot yet see.

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a few salinger links

* For you Catcher in the Rye fans: Walking in Holden’s Footsteps, an interactive map of Holden’s Manhattan.

*Still trying to decide what to make of this website, but at first glance, it’s an extremely comprehensive collection of all things Salinger; summaries of all his works, uncollected works, biographical information, etc. The Glass family page is especially helpful, for those interested.

*A collection of articles/essays in The New Yorker. Adam Gopnik’s essay is brief but beautiful, pointing out that “the isolation of his later decades should not be allowed to obscure his essential gift for joy“. Yes, Salinger withdrew from society and chose to live a hermit-like lifestyle; but he did not withdraw from observing the world, its inhabitants, and the beauty and meaning found in the details of every-day life (see the last paragraph of Gopnik’s essay for wonderful examples). Gopnik’s tribute is an honest look at an author who created some of the most honest characters in literature.  It would be difficult not to appreciate Salinger after reading this…so please read it.

More to come…but can you see why I love this guy? He was able to describe what it feels like to feel too much. Zooey, and Seymour: An Introduction, and Hapworth 16, 1924, and most of Nine Stories; these are all tough to read, because they’re packed with feeling and frustration and proof that living an examined life can be flat-out hard (and isolating…which he almost encourages via Holden’s “don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody“).  But boy, is it worth it. To have lived with “your stars out“, to “shoot for some kind of perfection, and on [your] own terms, not anyone else’s“, and to get busy living, because “the goddam sands run out on you every time you turn around“.

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resolve to always beginning

From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can…to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Another version includes this at the end: Resolve to always beginning – to be a beginner.

No reflections. Off to live everything, with a newfound sense of peace and anticipation, remembering that we are always exactly where we need to be.

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