July 29, 2014 at 8:26pm
You know the name you were given, you do not know the name you have.
— José Saramago, again, with something to ponder. If he’s right — if we’re given one and we create the other — how do we go about doing it? What things become important? What are our “rules” to live by? How loudly do our hearts beat? At the end of the day, I find myself returning to this, more and more often — a sentiment echoed by Jimi Hendrix.
These are Rilke’s words (you’ve seen him before, here and here) covering a photo I took of a seated Buddha at Angkor Wat.
One of the earliest posts on little hunches was this, a line from a rather amazing book. Even now, I’m unsure what it really means to knit together the many pieces of my life — though I love the idea — and I think that’s why I was caught by the quote you see above.
Because though I often wonder too much about what may lie ahead, it’s not always helpful to try and tie everything so perfectly together. It seems better to be ready — seated peacefully with open hands — poised enough to accept what comes your way, and fearless enough to create for yourself a life you truly want.
He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.
And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.
He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t trying to empty the beach.
He was just throwing away,
nothing else but.
Like a kitten playing
he was practising for the future
when there’ll be so many things
he’ll want to throw away
if only his fingers will unclench
and let them go.
— This is Small Boy, by Norman MacCaig, and it is so, so beautiful — another lovely poem to add to our collection. What more is there to say? Maybe this and this? If nothing else, say those words a few times — “if only his fingers will unclench and let them go” — and see how you feel. Some of the most challenging moments of my life have come when I was clinging to a vision that was no longer true for me, and how happy I was to finally throw that pebble into the sea.
He continues: “The business of organising the journey through the country could be attended to later.” All of this is from Norman Lewis’ “A Dragon Apparent” — a chronicle of his travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in the early 1950s.
This approach is deeply resonant with me, especially on my current journey through the exact same part of the world. I have rough ideas of places I want to see, times to get there by, and how to best arrange the order, but the rest is left to whim: how long breakfast lasts, where I find the nicest fruit, if I can take a boat there, or whether it’s raining and I’m trapped on a porch with an afternoon beer.
"Aimless roamings" certainly has something of a scattered, all-over-the-place, slightly disorganized and negative connotation, and I’m unsure why. It’s opposite — itineraries, detail, and lots of structure — is more than suitable for some people (and I’ve done the same in many settings), but it is not necessarily better.
Sometimes it’s nice to let the world move while you travel at your own speed, savoring the uncertain journey, and meeting yourself at every step along the way.
The majority of people dismiss those things that lie beyond the bounds of their own understanding as absurd and not worth thinking about.
— I finished Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle somewhere on the bus between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. It’s a long and odd read — full of repressed characters, curious underworlds, and blurred lines between dream and reality — that combines the detached characters of Sherwood Anderson with the occasional terse prose of Ernest Hemingway and the deep mystery of Franz Kafka. It may seem like a random book for an adventure in Southeast Asia, but there were parts (like the one you see here) that were perfect to read on a bumpy road between the green mountains as the rain followed us from north to south. I’ve spent too much time in my life not being on buses like those in countries like these, too little time smiling back at the beautifully reclined Buddhas in old temples a few paces from the Mekong.
July 17, 2014 at 8:21am
This is Sherwood Anderson’s third appearance on little hunches (the others are here and here), and though I wouldn’t recommend him to everyone, he does write with a great deal of precision.
What if this line from The Untold Lie is correct? What if everyone of us faces the same question: to go on with a humdrum life, or die gloriously? What if we carry our most treasured dream in the most sacred compartment of our heart, and we spend our lives silencing its call? What if that mountain you want to climb will always be there, but you won’t? What if that book you want to write will stay unwritten as long as you fail to take up the pen?
The best definition of “infinity” that I can think of is this: the amount of time you’re dead. And so, I leave you with this.
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived lives of the parents.
— Evening is coming on in Huay Xia, Laos, and my boat leaves for Luang Prabang early tomorrow morning. It’s a two-day trip down the Mekong River. For over a year now, I have hung on to this quote by Carl Jung. Not because I’m a parent or because I am in search of some personal psychological deconstruction, but because it uses two haunting words: unlived lives. As my life continues to unfold, and I don’t find the same certainty in things that appear so certain to so many other people, all I can do is make decisions with my heart. And so it happened that I found myself muttering these words in the back of a tuk-tuk in Chiang Khong, the rain coming down around me as I motored toward the incredible river I’ll call home for the next couple of days.
A few weeks ago, I received this text message from my Dad, and it tells you all you need to know about him in a few short words, especially the final ones — “Do the things that bring you joy and make you smile and sigh.”
If you have a moment, read this. You’ll find things like,
I know that I have just one life, and when I consider the things that really make me smile, make me feel alive, the things that light me up, they are all possible, but they require a willingness to live differently and to value things that other people seem not to value (and to turn my back on the things that seem so precious to most others).
And we are not afraid. Fear is the great limiter, I think. Fear of being alone, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, embarrassment, even of discomfort. I have learned to enjoy solitude and the thrill of the unknown.
I do not want to die wondering what might have been if I had dared to love passionately and without reservation, if I had believed in myself completely, if I had dared to throw all excuses away and commit to living a life of possibilities and expansiveness and happiness. I do not want that at all.
You get the idea.
If everything on little hunches is something of a nudge towards living — truly, truly living — a fuller and happier life, let this post be a shove.
No more hesitating. Leave the excuses to someone else. Just go.
Someday, somewhere — anywhere, unfailingly, you will find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.
— The Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda — whose father disapproved of his poetry, who always wrote in green (which he believed to be the color of hope), who won the Nobel Prize in literature — is very much worth spending time with. Begin with his first collection, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, and move on from there. As I sit in Northern Thailand, closer to Laos and Myanmar than Bangkok, the rain coming down all the way across the river and well into the distant trees, I enjoy thinking of this line. And of James Joyce, and of Mary Oliver, and of Jennifer Egan, and of Samuel Taylor Coleridge…
As spotted in between cups of coffee at a lovely little bookstore in Singapore. It adds nicely to the growing collection of “street wisdom” I have found — from San Francisco and Austin to New Hampshire and Oregon.
It’s a line that looks a lot like Henri Bergson meeting Neil Gaiman: the first tells us that life is a process of never-ending growth and change, the second tells us that we’re not really alive until we expose our heart and mind to the world. When you live this way, you’re bound to enjoy the spectrum of human emotion, from great happiness to hollow sadness, but you must never stop trying.
This quote refers to the hardships as “deaths” — “tiny ones, false ones, real ones” — and applauds how close they bring us to greatness. Somewhat more darkly, and in a speech given nearly 130 years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes agrees.
I (and Rilke) would agree as well: let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going.
I know about her, although she has never crossed my path, he said softly. I know about her struggles and her defeats. It is because of her defeats that she is to me the lovely one.
— Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is quite an incredible collection of short stories. The simple language seems ill-matched for the immensely complex characters and themes, but the magic of his writing is exactly that: saying a great deal without writing a whole lot. As he does here — talking about the beauty of defeat and how vulnerability breeds strength. If you need more, enjoy this line of his as well: “Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Be brave enough to dare to be loved.”
These words are from James Joyce’s Ulysses, and they’re set over a photo of the Pacific Crest Trail. I took the photo when I was on a road trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco. Past the Hoover Dam, through Joshua Tree National Park, happily watching the sun set in Santa Barbara, up the Pacific Coast Highway, a few beers on the water in Monterey — it was beautiful.
One quiet afternoon, I was winding my way around some backroads when I stumbled across an entrance to the trail. After a little walking on it myself, I stopped for a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe and chatted with a few hikers, giving one a ride to his campsite. Paths and trails can be too easily metaphorical, but like many other things, they seem to match nicely with the wisdom of Joyce.
In my quest for peace, fulfillment, and deep happiness with the thousands of moments that pile together make up my days and weeks and months and years (and, therefore, my life), I believe Joyce is eternally correct: I am forever meeting the different pieces of myself. The question, I imagine, is whether we can be happy with who we meet when we “walk through ourselves” each passing day.
And if you need a little nudge, want some newness or adventure, this and this might be of use. Go find a trail, listen to some piano jazz, or make a little noise and meet yourself.
I am half agony, half hope.
— Many of Jane Austen’s characters struggle mightily with what Nietzsche termed amor fati — the idea that we truly love the present moment, and therefore live in it wholeheartedly. This is not unique to her writing — indeed, it applies to most every other character I’ve met as well — but it is certainly noticeable, even in the eternally practical Anne Elliot, who you meet in Persuasion. I can think of no more succinct sentence that omits the present than the one you see here. Her agony stems from a decision she made eight years earlier to let the love of her life (and with apologies to Mr. Darcy, my favorite Jane Austen male), Captain Wentworth, go. Her hope is that she can get him back. My hope for Anne is the same I had for Scarlett O’Hara: relax. If she were sitting by me today, I might hand her some Kerouac, put on some Miles, and offer her some Middle Eastern wisdom on what love should be like.
There’s a challenging scene in The Garden of Eden where Catherine burns all of David’s writing. It’s an almost unforgivable act, I think, but the fact that Ernest Hemingway writes it makes it a little more understandable. Unsurprisingly, the two newlyweds had a rather complicated honeymoon — in this case, each of them falling in love with the same woman on the French Riviera. It’s the first real example of Hemingway playing around rather progressively with gender roles, but it neither lasts long nor ends well: David loves the woman who isn’t his wife, his marriage deteriorates, and his writing is gone forever.
So is Hemingway, and he left by his own hand on this day in 1961. He always loved autumn in Idaho (says a monument near where is buried: “Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on cottonwoods, leaves floating on trout streams, and above the hills the high blue windless skies”) and after years living in Spain, France, and Cuba, he bought a house in Ketchum that overlooked the Wood River. He was proud that he never missed a sunrise. If that’s true, then he kept his word even on the morning he strolled out of bed, grabbed his favorite 12-gauge shotgun, and as biographer Michael Reynolds describes, killed himself “quite deliberately.” Some time before, he wrote the list you see above: the books he thinks everyone should read.
I was reading The Garden of Eden when I visited Ketchum, and at a lovely bookstore somewhere on (or off, I don’t really remember) Main Street, I examined the Hemingway collection — they proudly had, they claimed, most all of his works. It was a cool day, and sitting on the porch with a stack of books, it was easy to glance around at the rolling green mountains and think about how I had come to know such a troubled writer.
It began in high school with all of his short stories, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms. I read For Whom the Bell Tolls sometime before college and remember the wonderful description of the pine needles Robert Jordan is lying in as the book begins. I will never forget reading Death in the Afternoon on the water in Cairns, Australia when I spent the summer living with the Aboriginals, and later reading To Have and Have Not in Guam. Harry Morgan is still one of my favorite characters, and I think I would have enjoyed a boat-ride with him.
I read The Dangerous Summer, rather appropriately, on a trip I took through France into Spain. I finished it as Seville was waking up around me, and as I recall, went out and drank a great deal of sangria. I got sunburned reading A Moveable Feast (one of the world’s least reliable autobiographies) but it’s a special book because it has the “Shakespeare and Company” stamp in the front — Hemingway used to visit often, and going there was one of my favorite afternoons in Paris. I read The Old Man and the Sea twice, though I don’t remember where, but once must have been somewhere on a beach because the pages are still separated by sand. The book is excellent, but there’s a wonderful part in there that talks about Joe DiMaggio (the two men were quite friendly with each other), and I’m not sure how much that has always made me wish that, more than any other player, I could have seen him roam centerfield.
I fought my way through Across the River and Into the Trees a few years ago, loving its title (and the story behind it) more than anything else. And a year or so before that, I read his first novella, The Torrents of Spring, and it was so different that I wondered if he had really written it.
There’s a great deal of mediocrity in his writing, lots of torture, and plenty of brilliance. I don’t love his brevity — nor do I love anything for the sake of itself — though sometimes I find it perfect, and many of his characters fluctuate between abhorrent and deeply relatable. He drank too much, womanized throughout his life, adored the outdoors, appeared to seal himself from meaningful relationships, and perpetually searched — in both writing and life — for the moment that defined who a person truly was. I have always wondered if that search ultimately killed him, if he spent his life in the shadow of what he wrote about, forever ashamed that he was not one of the “heroes” he created.
I’ve written enough about him. Let him describe his life as only he could, crisply and powerfully.
In 1889, Rudyard Kipling visited Mark Twain in upstate New York, and interviewed him. They discussed a lot, but Kipling asked Twain if he would ever write an autobiography. His response is what you see above.
I love the final part of what he says, because it talks about the authenticity that little hunches strives to promote. You see it everywhere — from jazz to Beethoven — and maybe most similar to Twain in the words of Malraux.
We are nothing more than a product of the many decisions we make throughout our lives, both silently and loudly, and no crafty autobiography (or eulogy) can convincingly change the perception of what you spend a lifetime creating: yourself.