Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, August 10, 2009

Diminishing returns

It just happens. Only you realize it later. You're taller then, and not as fresh. Your eyes have learned to expect less, and things get mingled with everything else. Ideas run into other ideas and become new ideas, but none lead to grace. Each road taken leads back eventually to the middle. And looking back you see a man, a grain of sand, a leaf even. And that's your life. What would you have done differently with it?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Today my sister is getting married

We will eat and drink
and dance and sing
Tonight we will be full
and drunk and smiling

And tomorrow morning
we will remember
a love times infinite
and plus a forever

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

rabbit at rest

With John Updike's passing I was reminded of an old notebook I used to keep of notable passages from books I was reading. Below are some of the highlights. Feel free to contribute some of your own...


While some of us burned on the edges of life, insatiable and straining to see more deeply in, he sat complacently at the center and let life come to him - so much of it, evidently, that he could not keep track of his appointments. - Updike

When I thought back to our hectic, somehow sacred heyday, it was, as I say, less in terms of the women closest to me than of those in the middle distance, relatively virginal, who had taken the siren call of the unknown with them as they disappeared over my horizon. - Updike

I felt in her presence the fear of death a man feels with a woman who once opened herself to him and is available no more. - Updike

Why I was intruding I have forgotten, but I remember receiving a genial welcome, as if I were already one of these men who had filled the glass ashtrays to overflowing and whose coffee cups had left a lace of brown circles on the card table top. As a teachers' child I was privileged to peel behind the formal stage-set of education's daily theatre. It was slight shock to see, on the stained table, a deck of worn pinnacle cards, held together by a rubber band. Teachers were human. I was expected to become, eventually, one of them. - Updike

Anything, just to put something there, some bliss, to live on later for awhile. If he goes empty now he won't last at all, because we only get emptier. - Updike

The wish to be held as a passive spectator by some work or sight of greatness. Not to make it, but to accept it; not to begin, but to respond; not to create, but to admire. I need it to let me go on, because joy is one's fuel. - Ayn Rand

... the dream of belief can be more real than the reality of disbelief...

Despair is the result of each earnest attempt to go through life with virtue, justice and understanding and fulfill their requirements. Children live on one side of despair, the awakened on the other. - Herman Hesse

There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to asset itself. - Herman Hesse

He in his madness prays for storms,
And dreams that storms will bring him peace - Kipling

The Island beyond reach, Lilia lost, his every hope beaten, why should the invisible Orange Dove not be transformed into the Golden Medulla, the philosopher's stone, the end of ends, volatile like everything passionately wanted? To aspire to something you will never have: is this not the aime of the most generous of desires? - Umberto Eco

I shall surely die, he said to himself...What illusion was I harboring? I would die, perhaps later, even if I had not arrived on this wreck. I entered life knowing that the Law requires us to leave it. As Saint-Savin said, we play our role, some long, some not so long, and then we leave the stage. I have seen others go before me, others will see me go, and they will give the same performance for their successors. For that matter, how long was the time when I did not exist, and for how long in the future will I not be? I occupy a very small space in the abyss of the years. This little interval does not succeed in distinguishing me from the nothingness into which I shall go. I came into the world only to swell the ranks. My part was so small that even if I had remained in the wings, everyone would still have declared the play perfect. It is like a storm at sea: some drown immediately, others are dashed against the rocks, still others are cast up on an abandoned ship, but not for long, not even they. Life goes out, on its own, like a candle that has consumed its substance. And we should be accustomed to it, because, like a candle, we have been shedding atoms since the moment we were lit. It is no great wisdom to know these things. We should know them from the moment we are born. But usually we reflect always and only on the death of others. Ah yes, we all have strength enough to bear others' ills. Then the moment comes when we think of death because the illness is our own, and we realize it is impossible to stare directly at the sun and at death. Unless we have had good teachers. I did. Someone said to me that truly few know death. As a rule it is tolerated through stupidity or habit, not through resolve. We die because we cannot do otherwise. Only the philosopher can think of death as a duty, to be performed willingly and without fear. As long as we are here, death is not here, and when death comes, we have gone. Why would I have spent so much time conversing about philosophy if now I were not capable of making my death the masterwork of my life? - maybe Beckett maybe Updike (actually turns out it's Eco)

Jealousy doesn't show how much you love someone. It shows how insecure you are. - Margaret Meade

It's not goodbye, and what magic in those dim things to which it will be time enough, when next they pass, to say goodbye. For you must say goodbye, it would be madness not to say goodbye, when the time comes. If you think of the forms and light of other days it is without regret. But you seldom think of them, with what would you think of them? I don't know. - Beckett

The fact is, it seems, that the most you can hope is to be a little less, in the end, the creature you were in the beginning, and the middle. - Beckett

What I liked in anthropology was its inexhaustible faculty of negation, its relentless definition of man, as though he were no better than God, in terms of what he is not. - Beckett

But more he felt sorry for that old figure of himself, waiting for grace to descend, afraid when it left him. No one could live that way, not forever. It was too much to expect from life. Always waiting. - Michael Byers

Your separate parts are not unknown
but the way you assemble 'ems all your own - Pat Boone

Life is fury, he'd thought. Fury - sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal - it drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of fury comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and receiving of blows from which we never recover. The fury pursues us... This is what we are, what we civilize ourselves to disguise - the terrifying human animal in us, the exalted, transcendent, self-destructive, untrammeled lord of creation. We raise each other to the heights of joy. We tear each other limb from fucking limb. - Rushdie

And if he failed, then he failed, but one did not contemplate what lay beyond failure while one was still trying to succeed. After all, Jay Gatsby, the highest bouncer of them all, failed too in the end, but lived out, before he crashed, that brilliant, brittle, gold-hatted, exemplary American life. - Gatsby

Goodnight, you princes of Maine... you kings of New England. - Irving

Goodnight you too, Mr. Updike. - me

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So many roses, so many weeds...

With the rain comes memories of recesses spent indoors, and of course, poor, poor Margot.

All Summer in a Day - ray bradbury

"Ready ?"
"Now ?"
"Do the scientists really know? Will it happen today, will it ?"
"Look, look; see for yourself !"
The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun.
It rained.
It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves come over the islands. A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again. And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives.
"It’s stopping, it’s stopping !"
"Yes, yes !"
Margot stood apart from them, from these children who could ever remember a time when there wasn’t rain and rain and rain. They were all nine years old, and if there had been a day, seven years ago, when the sun came out for an hour and showed its face to the stunned world, they could not recall. Sometimes, at night, she heard them stir, in remembrance, and she knew they were dreaming and remembering gold or a yellow crayon or a coin large enough to buy the world with. She knew they thought they remembered a warmness, like a blushing in the face, in the body, in the arms and legs and trembling hands. But then they always awoke to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests, and their dreams were gone.
All day yesterday they had read in class about the sun. About how like a lemon it was, and how hot. And they had written small stories or essays or poems about it:

I think the sun is a flower,
That blooms for just one hour.

That was Margot’s poem, read in a quiet voice in the still classroom while the rain was falling outside.
"Aw, you didn’t write that!" protested one of the boys.
"I did," said Margot. "I did."
"William!" said the teacher.
But that was yesterday. Now the rain was slackening, and the children were crushed in the great thick windows.
Where’s teacher ?"
"She’ll be back."
"She’d better hurry, we’ll miss it !"
They turned on themselves, like a feverish wheel, all tumbling spokes. Margot stood alone. She was a very frail girl who looked as if she had been lost in the rain for years and the rain had washed out the blue from her eyes and the red from her mouth and the yellow from her hair. She was an old photograph dusted from an album, whitened away, and if she spoke at all her voice would be a ghost. Now she stood, separate, staring at the rain and the loud wet world beyond the huge glass.
"What’re you looking at ?" said William.
Margot said nothing.
"Speak when you’re spoken to."
He gave her a shove. But she did not move; rather she let herself be moved only by him and nothing else. They edged away from her, they would not look at her. She felt them go away. And this was because she would play no games with them in the echoing tunnels of the underground city. If they tagged her and ran, she stood blinking after them and did not follow. When the class sang songs about happiness and life and games her lips barely moved. Only when they sang about the sun and the summer did her lips move as she watched the drenched windows. And then, of course, the biggest crime of all was that she had come here only five years ago from Earth, and she remembered the sun and the way the sun was and the sky was when she was four in Ohio. And they, they had been on Venus all their lives, and they had been only two years old when last the sun came out and had long since forgotten the color and heat of it and the way it really was.
But Margot remembered.
"It’s like a penny," she said once, eyes closed.
"No it’s not!" the children cried.
"It’s like a fire," she said, "in the stove."
"You’re lying, you don’t remember !" cried the children.
But she remembered and stood quietly apart from all of them and watched the patterning windows. And once, a month ago, she had refused to shower in the school shower rooms, had clutched her hands to her ears and over her head, screaming the water mustn’t touch her head. So after that, dimly, dimly, she sensed it, she was different and they knew her difference and kept away. There was talk that her father and mother were taking her back to Earth next year; it seemed vital to her that they do so, though it would mean the loss of thousands of dollars to her family. And so, the children hated her for all these reasons of big and little consequence. They hated her pale snow face, her waiting silence, her thinness, and her possible future.
"Get away !" The boy gave her another push. "What’re you waiting for?"
Then, for the first time, she turned and looked at him. And what she was waiting for was in her eyes.
"Well, don’t wait around here !" cried the boy savagely. "You won’t see nothing!"
Her lips moved.
"Nothing !" he cried. "It was all a joke, wasn’t it?" He turned to the other children. "Nothing’s happening today. Is it ?"
They all blinked at him and then, understanding, laughed and shook their heads.
"Nothing, nothing !"
"Oh, but," Margot whispered, her eyes helpless. "But this is the day, the scientists predict, they say, they know, the sun…"
"All a joke !" said the boy, and seized her roughly. "Hey, everyone, let’s put her in a closet before the teacher comes !"
"No," said Margot, falling back.
They surged about her, caught her up and bore her, protesting, and then pleading, and then crying, back into a tunnel, a room, a closet, where they slammed and locked the door. They stood looking at the door and saw it tremble from her beating and throwing herself against it. They heard her muffled cries. Then, smiling, the turned and went out and back down the tunnel, just as the teacher arrived.
"Ready, children ?" She glanced at her watch.
"Yes !" said everyone.
"Are we all here ?"
"Yes !"
The rain slacked still more.
They crowded to the huge door.
The rain stopped.
It was as if, in the midst of a film concerning an avalanche, a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, something had, first, gone wrong with the sound apparatus, thus muffling and finally cutting off all noise, all of the blasts and repercussions and thunders, and then, second, ripped the film from the projector and inserted in its place a beautiful tropical slide which did not move or tremor. The world ground to a standstill. The silence was so immense and unbelievable that you felt your ears had been stuffed or you had lost your hearing altogether. The children put their hands to their ears. They stood apart. The door slid back and the smell of the silent, waiting world came in to them.
The sun came out.
It was the color of flaming bronze and it was very large. And the sky around it was a blazing blue tile color. And the jungle burned with sunlight as the children, released from their spell, rushed out, yelling into the springtime.
"Now, don’t go too far," called the teacher after them. "You’ve only two hours, you know. You wouldn’t want to get caught out !"
But they were running and turning their faces up to the sky and feeling the sun on their cheeks like a warm iron; they were taking off their jackets and letting the sun burn their arms.
"Oh, it’s better than the sun lamps, isn’t it ?"
"Much, much better !"
They stopped running and stood in the great jungle that covered Venus, that grew and never stopped growing, tumultuously, even as you watched it. It was a nest of octopi, clustering up great arms of fleshlike weed, wavering, flowering in this brief spring. It was the color of rubber and ash, this jungle, from the many years without sun. It was the color of stones and white cheeses and ink, and it was the color of the moon.
The children lay out, laughing, on the jungle mattress, and heard it sigh and squeak under them resilient and alive. They ran among the trees, they slipped and fell, they pushed each other, they played hide-and-seek and tag, but most of all they squinted at the sun until the tears ran down their faces; they put their hands up to that yellowness and that amazing blueness and they breathed of the fresh, fresh air and listened and listened to the silence which suspended them in a blessed sea of no sound and no motion. They looked at everything and savored everything. Then, wildly, like animals escaped from their caves, they ran and ran in shouting circles. They ran for an hour and did not stop running.
And then -
In the midst of their running one of the girls wailed.
Everyone stopped.
The girl, standing in the open, held out her hand.
"Oh, look, look," she said, trembling.
They came slowly to look at her opened palm.
In the center of it, cupped and huge, was a single raindrop. She began to cry, looking at it. They glanced quietly at the sun.
"Oh. Oh."
A few cold drops fell on their noses and their cheeks and their mouths. The sun faded behind a stir of mist. A wind blew cold around them. They turned and started to walk back toward the underground house, their hands at their sides, their smiles vanishing away.
A boom of thunder startled them and like leaves before a new hurricane, they tumbled upon each other and ran. Lightning struck ten miles away, five miles away, a mile, a half mile. The sky darkened into midnight in a flash.
They stood in the doorway of the underground for a moment until it was raining hard. Then they closed the door and heard the gigantic sound of the rain falling in tons and avalanches, everywhere and forever.
"Will it be seven more years ?"
"Yes. Seven."
Then one of them gave a little cry.
"Margot !"
"What ?"
"She’s still in the closet where we locked her."
They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor. They looked at each other and then looked away. They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily. They could not meet each other’s glances. Their faces were solemn and pale. They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down.
One of the girls said, "Well… ?"
No one moved.
"Go on," whispered the girl.
They walked slowly down the hall in the sound of cold rain. They turned through the doorway to the room in the sound of the storm and thunder, lightning on their faces, blue and terrible. They walked over to the closet door slowly and stood by it.
Behind the closet door was only silence.
They unlocked the door, even more slowly, and let Margot out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Three Observations


Sitting on a bench I watched the people wander past. They each went their own way, with their own ideas. Their faces are now a blur. A man and a woman, a girl and a dog, each going their own way.

There walked past a young man with a bundle in his arms. He stopped for a moment, to decide on a direction perhaps, and the bundle fell. I heard the shattering of glass.

The young man reacted slowly. In his demeanor you could see his disappointment. He scooped up the felled package and carried it quickly to a wooden bench, whereon he opened it.

From my position I could see the broken remains of a plate, meant for a special someone, discarded in the nearby trashcan. The young man stood over the trashcan where the porcelain pieces lay, and paused briefly, perhaps thinking of another way to make her smile. I felt happy for this young man as he floated away on the evening’s loveliness. A broken plate won’t ever cause any pain.


Yesterday I was a day younger than I am today. Tomorrow I will be a day older than I am today. Tomorrow I will look back on today as today I look back on yesterday, and realize that had I known yesterday what I will know tomorrow, I would have done things differently. I know all this, and yet I would still do things differently.


I smoke my cigar from one end. The other end is lit. As I breath in its hot presence and let it float around in my head, the tobacco is absorbed into my blood. The hot floating breathe of my cigar fills my mouth and the tobacco my blood, and I exhale. The feeling is unique, I know not a similar one.

And the band played...

Passing predictably along the plain
Ignoring arpeggios as they come
Passions subsiding at each refrain

Heartbeat steady as the bass drum
Pacing the chorus of the everyday
The simple tune the laymen hum

Diatonically governing the arrangements way
With adagio building to crescendo
Dictating the notes in yeas and nay

The pulse quickens as the trumpets blow
Signaling the end of this lament?
And what comes next I do not know

A harsh bagatelle of dishevelment
The sound of crashing brass
My ears distrust the dissonant

A trill consuming and so crass
Pounding, beating, pounding, pounding
Hoping, knowing this too shall pass...

A Eulogy

Inspired by Once More to the Lake, The Ring of Time, and The Geese - though fictious...

Englebert Brooks White, also known as E. B., was born in a small, blue-collar town outside of Boston. E.B.’s father was a miner and his mother died from complications while giving birth to E.B and his twin sister Felicia Catherine. The town, Maple Oak, was more rural than urban, and situated on the outskirts of the Great Neck Forest. When E.B. was younger he used to play with his twin sister in the Great Neck Forest. The two children divided their time evenly between building tree forts and playing tea party. When engaging in imaginary battles in their tree forts, E.B. would be the white night and his sister, F.C., would be the damsel in distress. The feats of strength and bravery of the young knight became legendary in Maple Oak and the surrounding towns and the young knight received many invitations to the most fashionable and elite tea parties of the time. At these various gatherings, the young knight would indulge in the exotic cakes and liquors, while the damsel would hob-knob with the rich and famous. Many afternoons were spent in the forest, taming beasts and tasting scones.

One particular afternoon, having arrived home from school to find nobody home, E.B. and F.C took to exploring the dark corners of their home. Eventually they arrived in their father’s room. Their father was not a mean man, but he had his ways. After a long day in the quarry he would sit down on the couch with a scotch and listen to the swooning sounds of his transistor radio. More than once the children remember waking up for class with their father asleep on the couch in the clothes of the day before. And although their father was slow with the stick, he forbade the children from ever entering his room. On this particular afternoon, however, the children were curious. After minutes of baiting one another, they eventually made their way to the closet. In the closet, hidden behind an old flannel jacket, the children found a shotgun. Being young and foolish, the children took the shotgun and snuck off to their fort in the woods. E.B., being the elder sibling by a minute, and a boy, was the first to test the weapon. Perched high above the forest floor, laying flat upon the planks of his fort, E.B. spotted a family of geese. Having strayed from the lake, the geese were circling the remains of a picnic. With one eye closed, E.B. took a shot. In a burst the geese took to flight, the dead mother the only remnant. With tears in her eyes, F.C. made E.B. bury the goose. They never spoke of the incident again.

Outside of their wilderness experiences, E.B. and his sister loved stories. In fact, at night when neither could sleep, they would stay up and tell each other stories. One of them would start until they ran out of words, and then the other would continue until the same. The goal was to see who could talk the longest without running out of words. Scholastically the children did well. Though neither received high marks in mathematics, both were highly regarded by their writing teachers.

Upon coming of age, E.B. took to the quarries and F.C. became a seamstress. Although not accustomed to spending time apart, the two slowly adjusted. A few weeks after E.B.’s twenty-first birthday the factory his sister worked at caught fire and all but two survived. F.C. was not one of the two and E.B. was devastated. He quit his job in the quarries and took to traveling. It was during these travels that he began to write. He wrote to make money and reconnect with his past. However, E.B.’s travels never took him far and the majority of his time was spent in New England and Canada. Eventually E.B. settled down in a small town in Maine, similar to Maple Oak, and started a family of his own. E.B. White died at the age of 56 of lung cancer. He is survived by his wife Greta and his son Howard.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The great unknown

He lived high above a concrete city. Streets of concrete, buildings of concrete, sidewalks of the same. It was a city of grays and blacks and off-whites. From his perch, day was a texture of concrete against concrete, a mosaic, blended together by the unifying idea of being a city. At night, the concrete faded and lights remained. A grid of dots, white, yellow, red, green. The grid outlined the concrete structures that enveloped the day. At first his view was breathtaking. Actually, that hadn't changed. The view was still breathtaking. But at first he noticed it more. Now he'd lose himself in his work, in his books, in his thoughts, and the view would go on without him.

The night clouded his view of the city. His windows were clear, yes, but his thoughts of night when night came were too much. Alone in the day and alone in the night were two different perspectives. Each one contrasted so much with the other, that the view, though the same, was so different. High atop a perch looking at a world, at the city, in such a way, the night cloaked the living and a new living awoke. This life of the city at night, this grid of lights, was so vague. The idea of what he was missing, or his own thoughts of what the city was capable of, consumed him, and the sense he had of himself. It suffocated him in the reverse way. It pulled the breath that he'd already breathed back through his lungs, not as a reprieve, but as a sigh. The life he'd imagined, the one he'd seen so clear so many times, became illuminated by the moon. And its crevasses and craters were far deeper and far more impenetrable than he originally thought or could believe.

The path of his life he had drawn in ink. It never occurred to him that pencil was more forgiving. His life of ink was bleeding. Lead would have better prepared him for the bleeding, prevented it even. Ink was finality, death. Thinking back to his original ink plan, he tried to determine where it went wrong. And each time he did, it occurred to him that it began right where it started. His plan had not accounted for the unexpected. What remained was an abstract mess of scribbles and cross outs that could really use an erasure.

So who was he? He was a writer, a great writer. His words were poetic and his thoughts grand. His use of language and prose and tone and imagery and honesty was beautiful. He had written in his thirty five years enough to substantiate these claims. His writing was beautiful, yes, and he knew it, and he appreciated it. He did not take it for granted, and each word he wrote evoked an idea or thought not by chance, but because he dealt with each word painstakingly to evoke each idea or thought. His was not a life of chance. He had spent it preparing himself for exactly where he was. His was a culmination of every decision he had ever made.

From a young age he knew he was a writer. Not because of what he wrote or the reactions to what he wrote, but because of what he felt. The words were a compromise between his true vulnerable honest feelings and what he was capable of capturing in words. Anyone who has ever felt anything could relate. The writer captured emotion, yes, but true honest emotion, the greatest writers were only capable of coming closest to. His ideas weren't new, his thoughts not so original, but his voice, his voice penetrated even the heaviest of armor. This was no accident. His was a voice learned over time, fine tuned to sound the loudest of trumpets.

New York had let itself so easily to so many others, but he felt void. His cutting words, his yearning even, had become dull. And atop his perch he saw a world unto itself, and he felt incapable. To capture even the simplest moment of the bustle of this place was an enormous task. In the past his truest words captured the simple moments of life. He spoke of childhood love, not true love, but the rationale for wanting to feel true love. He wrote of longing and loss. But these feelings were hollow here. In a city where love and longing and loss were the everyday, here in a city were so many were feeling so much so often, he was overwhelmed. That others had come before him was of no consolation. The struggles of each of us, of everyone, is internal. He was as exposed as a hermit crab in transition between shells. And what he had found was that it is not easy to breathe in the recesses of the living.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Bedtime Stories

While I don't remember all the details, there were always these funny little stories my mommom used to tell us kids. I'll do my best to recreate...

...Things are well. Just today I saw a sugar plum fairy climb a street sign to grab a red, yellow and green taffy. It was quite the spectacle, and stopped traffic for miles. Oh, and all the tiny men that moved into my closet finally moved out because I refused to iron my dress shirts. It turns out that they can be pretty unforgiving. They told the Queen on me and she sent her favorite umbrella as a sign that if I didn't learn to behave then I would soon find myself wet behind the ears. I took the umbrella, only to be nice, and decided to use it as a table when I am eating. I figure that whenever it gets dirty I can clean it off in the rain. So it wasn't all bad.

And if you were wondering, my refrigerator decided to stop running and returned after three years of living off the coast of Nova Scotia. We came to an understanding. And despite the warranty I had on his head, he promised to turn the light off when I shut the door, as long as I would talk to the salad about dressing in front of everyone. Apparently it was all a terribly embarrassing situation and the mustard kept turning red and getting mistaken for ketchup, which really upset the tomatoes that had spent so much time getting ready. I talked it over with the corn and they told me it would be ears before things would be normal again. But like I said, it all seems to be coming to an end...

That's all for now, but I'm sure you get the gist..