October 20, 2014 at 4:17pm
Having spent the last couple of days on Highway 61, broadly heading from Vicksburg to Memphis (with deviations, of course), the only soundtrack has been blues. Today it was Jimmy Reed, particularly his Live from Carnegie Hall album.
Reed’s guitar-work was immensely influential, and heavily cited by The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley, among others. Neil Young, too. In fact, the music playing before he takes the stage is very often Jimmy Reed.
There’s a worthy, though tiresome, discussion surrounding different styles of blues. From Delta Blues to what came out of Chicago, Kansas City, and even Britain, it can be quite fascinating to try and trace influences, to try and decide on pioneers. Jimmy Reed falls in the “influencer and pioneer” category almost universally.
It makes musical sense that the words you see above — part of a series of interviews that lasted from 1973 to 1975 — remind me of Miles Davis. Even more, there is wonderful wisdom in there about how to live: the secrets are always your own, and they should be listened to closely, acted on, and celebrated.
October 17, 2014 at 12:21pm
It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves.
— Said by Tom Wilkinson, one of the actors who has played John Proctor in The Crucible (happy birthday, Arthur Miller!). Proctor was a real man — a farmer and the owner of a tavern — who was tried, convicted, and hanged during the Salem witch trials in the late 17th century. It’s a statement quite like this question from Fahrenheit 451, and both pair nicely with this idea from Pablo Neruda: one day, sooner or later, you will squarely face yourself. When that happens, who will you see?
October 16, 2014 at 9:27am
After 10 years, it’s time to go.
I was scrolling through the little hunches archives to see what else to link here. I saw a photo I posted of a boat (“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”). I saw metanoia again — the journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life. And I saw these lights, lit up to read, Don’t Die Hesitating.
With that, I’m off, leaning forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.
October 14, 2014 at 12:25pm
It’s a bit more than that: multiple themes are repeated or imitated, voices come and go, and everything is interwoven. Think of it as a beautiful discussion between disparate parts — the fragments Marilynne Robinson wants to knit up — or, think of it as the musical version of little hunches.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard fugues are the most notable, but my favorite is not really a fugue at all. In 1967, an English rock band released a song that was derived from the second movement of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, or “Air on the G String.”
Their name was Procol Harum, and their song was A Whiter Shade of Pale — one of my ten absolute favorite songs of all time. The other notable influence on it was Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman, released a year before on a different continent.
There is the idea that all ideas are borrowed, that everything new is nothing more than a refiguring of all that currently exists (this Los Angeles sidewalk says it nicely). That thought may have merit, but what I enjoy more is seeing the layered connections that exist between so many lovely things: where else can a Baroque composer, some street-art in LA, the word “fugue,” Percy Sledge, and one of the world’s greatest rock songs all find a way to link arms?
Said more confusingly by one of the fathers of American Pragmatism, I prefer Kahlil Gibran’s emotional response — how wonderful it is to see the world’s fugue on display, an interweaving of pieces across time to create many lasting things: “For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
October 13, 2014 at 9:59am
The secrets, it seems, lie in the baker’s hands, his art and intuition…
— Jeffrey Steingarten is the Food Critic at Vogue, and gathered a fine collection of essays into The Man Who Ate Everything. Like all good writing, it’s quite unbound — full of criss-crossing narratives and thoughtful connections. The line you see above comes towards the end of an entertaining piece about making leavened bread — a food with few ingredients where everything about it varies at the hands of its creator. It’s a similar idea to the relationship Paul Theroux discussed between a book and its reader, and it fits perfectly with Murakami’s beautiful observation that the most important things in life are the small things we possess. A reminder to be fiercely ourselves.
I don’t suppose he’s encouraging aimlessness, though he might be. It doesn’t seem to be about advising motion for the sake of it either, but that’s not always the worst thing. And I don’t think it’s strictly about making geographical voyages (there are other types of adventures), even though they are sometimes the best kind.
The line above is from Camino Real, a Tennessee Williams play that features a fair number of famous literary figures as characters. These words belong to Lord Byron. It’s also the play that features the beautiful line:
The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.
As my time in Austin winds down and my sights shift towards the next voyage, I think of two things: a word and an expression, both of which jumped into my mind in the middle of last night, in a happy, quiet moment where before I fell back asleep, I felt alive.
Reading alters the appearance of a book. Once it has been read, it never looks the same again, and people leave their individual imprint on a book they have read. One of the pleasures of reading is seeing this alteration on the pages, and the way, by reading it, you have made the book yours.
— Paul Theroux has written many things, but his travel writing is my favorite. This is from The Old Patagonian Express, where he makes his way overland from Boston to South America. Towards the end — around the same time he makes the observation you see above — he meets Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires, and the two have a rather pleasant interaction. There’s something increasingly old-fashioned about loving books, and something even more challenging about being all right with the long moments of silence and solitude that accompany reading. But even though the relationship may be non-verbal, there’s a lovely bond between a book and its reader: the marks, notes, creases, spills, and gradual weathering combine to create something rather indefinably beautiful. And, something so very individual — the well-traveled, well-read book a perpetual reminder of a relationship only the two of you will ever really understand.
Profoundly simple wisdom on a sidewalk in Austin, Texas, that makes a nice addition to our collection of street-art. And how well it fits with these words of Thich Nhat Hanh, and this poem about kindness.
September 30, 2014 at 3:04pm
I worry that the ease and incessancy of communication with electronic media short-circuits the process whereby you go into deep isolation with yourself, you withdraw from the world so as to be able to hear the world better and know yourself better, and you produce something unique which you send out into the world and let communicate in a non-discursive way for you.
— The only part of this line by Jonathan Franzen that I don’t enjoy is the final piece. I’ve wrestled with his use of “non-discursive” for a while, and once I push it aside, I enjoy his point immensely (a less extreme version of a similar one by Julian Barnes). He wrote a collection of essays called How to Be Alone, and this sentence encapsulates why he did: people don’t know how to be at peace with their own silence. And, people also confuse moments of aloneness with the early stages of a slide into depression. Take away the extremes, and you have thousands of moments each day which offer you the chance between two things: hearing the beat of your heart, or distracting yourself from it. Distractions are fine — though not always — but don’t let them prevent you from meeting yourself, and the world, as you’re supposed to.
September 26, 2014 at 11:14am
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is Milan Kundera’s wonderful novel about the weight — and recurrence — of moments. Among other ideas, he writes about the finite nature of our lives, his characters sometimes haunted by the fixed number of things we can do while we live it. It’s quite a powerful book that deserves more consideration that I’m giving it here.
Moments are nothing new to little hunches, indeed, they have been talked about often. Truman Capote had a way of crafting beautiful ones, Pablo Neruda saw them as both inevitable and revealing, Sherlock Holmes welcomed their uncertainty, and then there’s Captain Gus McCrae’s version — one of the best sentences I have ever read.
Moments, I think, are the differentiating force between a life truly lived and a life just visited. As my life continues its happily winding road, there comes the occasional evening where I shuffle between reading, writing, blues, and wine. And when memories arise, they are always vivid moments: of finish lines as the sun is dropping, family meals that last for hours, sitting on a little chair at my niece’s school and reading something about a pout-pout fish, blue oceans in warm places, what Scotland feels like in June — from trains and ferries and hitchhiked rides across the Hebridees. So much else that supposedly matters — cars and houses, jobs and degrees — simply doesn’t factor.
I’m not saying that one category of things should be sought and the other ignored or avoided. That’s neither my place nor my concern. It’s that it’s taken me a few years to believe that silent confidence and “world-is-mine” swagger come from knowing the things that matter to you, whatever they may be. And not just knowing, but knowing, and then acting in their furtherance.
I suppose the more concise version of it is this: do the things that bring you joy and make you smile and sigh. Now let me add: and do them with swagger.
September 25, 2014 at 12:31pm
On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -
a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.
— Oh, Mary Oliver, how you reel me in (Song of the Builders is her eighth little hunches appearance). So delightfully simple. Summertime and God, crickets and hillsides, hope and beauty. It’s a lovely idea: each of us building the universe in our small, inexplicable ways. There’s a dash of yūgen in this poem, something very Robert Frost — we just go on, mile after mile, creating ourselves and the world endlessly.
September 24, 2014 at 11:37am
Miles Davis once said that the history of jazz could be reduced to four words: “Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.” There’s not much room to argue. Parker was a fast-moving, heroin-addicted, dead-when-he-was-34, improvising saxophone master. And much more than an entertainer. He wanted more from jazz, so he helped pioneer bebop — a form defined by quicker progressions and tempos. The idea was to create something that demanded listening. Swing music, they thought, was too danceable. They wanted something more complex.
And so you see the quote above. If what you do (or how you live or who you love or the risks you take…) intertwines with the depths of your soul, the most authentic version of you will do exactly as Parker says: find its way out of your horn. Anything else seems inexcusable.
September 22, 2014 at 9:57am
I dream well there.
— Said Jorge Luis Borges — who was going blind at the time — about why he loved Austin, Texas. He was a visiting professor at the University of Texas for a semester in 1961 and taught a class on the poetry of Argentina (and another on Walt Whitman). It reminds me of this beautiful poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it plays perfectly into the romantic vision I hold of how we should connect to the places we choose to be. How lovely a description it is — from the place you live to the people you love — that they make you better dreamers.
September 18, 2014 at 1:21pm
At a teahouse in San Francisco, I found wabi-sabi on a menu. As I explored more then, it is the Japanese idea that true beauty lies in the natural imperfection and impermanence of things (sort of like the antithesis to everything Dorian Gray stands for). In some sense, it’s a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s by no means abstract: think of something that makes you yearn — even that word is perfect, can’t you just feel it naturally stretch into yeeeeeeaarn? — it’s usually composed of some combination of exhilaration and melancholy. Then think of why it makes you feel that way. Perhaps because you know it won’t last forever, maybe it’s already past, or it could just be something unique to you, something very much of your own creation and ownership, something you breathe life into. Someone you love? Someone you loved? A memory of that summer you spent on the French Riviera? That’s wabi-sabi.
Zen Buddhism expresses this concept with a beautifully simple image — the ensō. In a world overwhelmed by the never-ending conquest of certainty, the avoidance of chance, and the clamor for needing to know what’s next, I think people should grab a paint brush and try their hand at an ensō or two.
Adding to our list of amazing words, there’s yūgen, a wonderfully ironic word to try and describe. You see it’s definition above, but one of the reason these posts are difficult for me to write is because of what yūgen actually means: there are some things, some emotions, that are too deep and mysterious for words. And I’m glad that is the case. The romantic Buddhist in me hopes that if I am ever able to perfectly describe why I love someone, I will know it’s time to walk away. Regardless, perhaps my favorite version of this comes from Silesius: tell me one more time, why is the rose?
The curse of writing is exactly that disconnect — taking an emotion you so powerfully feel, and trying to re-cast it on paper. If you’re supposed to write about what you know — and let’s say you know what love and heartbreak are — if you can’t find the right words, or the right characters or places, how are you supposed to write about what you know? In a sense, you know it so well that you are left wordless. It’s the endlessness of complexity that Alice Munro talks about.
So you have two choices: reduce it to words and feel like it loses a dimension or two, knowing that no matter how well it gathers itself into sentences or paragraphs, it never quite carries the same weight as it does inside. Or, collect your pens, find some paper, torment yourself with the simultaneous experience of creating and destroying sentences, and when the day draws to an unsatisfactory close, only you will truly know the effort and anguish that has gone into creating such a perfectly blank page.
I hope this doesn’t have the unintended consequence of suggesting that without answers, questions are gutless. Quite the opposite, I hope it encourages more of them. What I hope instead is that there is a profound comfort with not knowing.
That mystery, that uncertainty, that yūgen. Somewhere swirling amidst all three are the secrets of Rumi’s morning breeze, the whatever of life — the thing and the things that don’t belong on paper, but live somewhere indescribably deep and honest. Those things deserve your biggest smile.
September 15, 2014 at 1:12pm
It’s been a dead parade
of hours since 5 AM
a march of the bland
with the meaningless and
I can think of nothing
I have done to merit
But now, at 8 pm,
I am bathing my son
in a tub filled with bubbles
and blue battleships,
the soapy water over
his Irish white skin
makes him glisten
like a glazed doughnut
and I should tell him
to stop splashing
but this is the first time
all day I have felt like living
so how can I scold
my boy who’s found joy
in something ordinary
as water? And when
I wash his hair
with Buzz Lightyear
closes his eyes and
smiles like a puppy
being petted as I massage
the sweet lotion into
his red curls and I know
this is one good thing
I have done with my life
this day that has waited
for this moment
of water on my sleeve
and soap on my nose
to turn emptiness
— One Good Thing, by Edwin Romond. It’s a poem about moments — in this case, a singular one — that give purpose and significance to life. They can be as simple as running through the rain or as quiet as togetherness, but they should be sought. And protected.