A mind fed on words such as heaven, earth, dew, essence, cinnabar, moonlight, stillness, jade, pearl, cedar, and winter plum is likely to have a serenity not to be found in minds ringing with the vocabulary of the present age – computer, tractor, jumbo jet, speedball, pop, dollar, liquidation, napalm, overkill! Who would thrill at the prospect of rocketing to the moon in a billion-dollar spacecraft if he knew how to summon a shimmering gold and scarlet dragon at any time of the day or night and soar among the stars?
– John Blofeld
Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognizing, and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt. Some say that the main cause of this very serious difficulty lies in the fact that human beings are basically made of clay, which, as the encyclopedias helpfully explain, is a detrital sedimentary rock made up of tiny mineral fragments measuring one two hundred and fifty-sixths of a millimeter. Until now, despite long linguistic study, no one has managed to come up with a name for this.
– Jose Saramago
David Rakoff made readers laugh. Underneath his humorous writing is a melancholic current that touched those who read him. A celebrated writer, Rakoff notably won the Thurber Prize for American humour in 2011. He died in 2012 of cancer. He was 47.
I want to post two things from his book Half Empty which talks of making art. If you think about these, the sentiments would apply to just about any creative pursuit. And to life as well.
Here’s what Rakoff has to say on what being an artist really means.
… hanging out can be marvelous. But hanging out does not make one an artist.
…the only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating yourself long enough to push something out.
The Myth of the Bohemian persists with good reason. Given the choice between a day spent giving oneself over to oil painting, or one spent in the confining grid of office cubicles, most folks would opt for the old fantasy of the carnal chaos of drop cloths, easels, turpentine, raffia wrapped Chianti bottles holding drippy candle ends, and cavorting nude models, forgetting momentarily the lack of financial security and the necessary hours and hours of solitude spent fucking up over and over again.
These passages speak to me. If you want to be an artist, you make art. And when you are on that path, you are going to be alone, and you will make mistakes again and again and again.
Tolerance of self. Acceptance of an imperfect self.
Perhaps this is just a note to self. A much needed one as I am working on an article that refuses to write itself. Right, who am I kidding, yes?
Science begins in wonder, but it definitely goes forth with observation.
Think: a simple titration, a microscopy experiment or even amateur star gazing. All of these have observation occupying centre-stage. All science is dependent on observation.
Observation Notebook. Ring a bell? That notebook in the laboratory where you are required to record all your ‘observations’. Because, it is based on those observations, that you arrive at a ‘result’ for that experiment.
“Facts have to be discovered by observation, not by reasoning,” said Bertrand Russell. And that’s your famous empiricism versus rationalism argument all right!
Flaubert once said originality stems from intense observation. Continuing on this line of thought, Mary Oliver, one of the writers I admire, wrote:
I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.
And Oliver has reiterated this truth of hers again and again in her oeuvre.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
– Excerpted from Sometimes.
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
– Excerpted from Yes! No!
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
– Excerpted from The Summer Day.
Everything that Oliver has written is a testament to observation being the cornerstone of her writing and life.
Here’s how she begins her poem “The Notebook“.
Six a.m. –
the small, pond turtle lifts its head into the air like a green toe.
It looks around.
And here’s how her poem “Mindful” opens.
Every day I see or hear something that more or less
kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for – to look, to listen,
to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over
in joy, and acclamation.
Observe. Write. Live.
Mindful living needs observation. It requires being in the moment. How long is a moment, do you ask? I know, and I don’t.
I love what Jiddu Krishnamurti has to say on observing thought.
There is no knowledge of tomorrow, only conjecture as to what might happen tomorrow, based on your knowledge of what has been. A mind that observes with knowledge is incapable of following swiftly the stream of thought. It is only by observing without the screen of knowledge that you begin to see the whole structure of your own thinking. And as you observe – which is not to condemn or accept, but simply to watch – you will find that thought comes to an end. Casually to observe an occasional thought leads nowhere. But if you observe the process of thinking and do not become an observer apart from the observed, if you see the whole movement of thought without accepting or condemning it, then that very observation puts an end immediately to thought – and therefore the mind is compassionate, it is in a state of constant mutation.
As I write this, I am reminded of a scene from Before Sunrise.
How’s that for an observation for being mindful?
Observe. That is all.
If you deconstruct Greece, you will in the end see an olive tree, a grapevine, and a boat remain. That is, with as much, you reconstruct her.
– Odysseas Elytis
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. – Muriel Rukeyser
We are made of carbon and hydrogen and oxygen.
The oceans – of hydrogen and oxygen.
The air – of oxygen
(and nitrogen among other gases).
The stars – of hydrogen and helium.
And so we live.
along with water, and air and sunlight
which again is carbon, and hydrogen and oxygen),
dreams and hopes and love
(and a lot more).
I asked myself:
What are dreams and hopes and love made of?
Don’t ask: Are you sure?
That question annihilates life particles.
Writing in his foreword to the first edition of Collected Poems, 1938, E. E. Cummings delineates a collective noun called mostpeople. What follows is an incisive characterisation of the group, which makes for a very interesting read. Coming from the poet who exhorted young people “to be nobody-but-yourself (- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everything else…),” this excerpt is worth visiting again and again especially for its “we can never be born enough” declaration.
The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople — it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings; mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism. Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably call it dying—
you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery, the mystery of growing: which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life, for eternal us, is now, and now is much to[o] busy being a little more than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.
On a related note, the “we can never be born enough” phrase reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Breaking the Fast. There’s a line in the poem that haunts me in the best way possible. “Remember your deepest name,” Nye says. There’s something about it that harks back to the E. E. Cummings excerpt. Here it follows for your reading pleasure.
Japanese teacher says:
At first light, rise.
Don’t hover between
sleep and waking,
this makes you heavy,
puts a stone inside your heart.
The minute you drift back to shore,
Remember your deepest name.
Sometimes objects stun me,
bamboo strainer, gray mug,
sitting exactly where
they were left.
They have not slept
or dreamt of lost faces.
I touch them carefully,
saying, tell me what you know.
Cup of waves,
in a seashell.
In morning the water seems
clear to the bottom.
No fish blocks my view.
Most people are just that: mostpeople. But your job here is to remember your deepest name.
I am on an exciting trip in my head. I am thinking of certain words – of what they do in science and what they do in literature. Whoever it was who said words have power, was very right!
I am taking on ‘luminescence’ today. But I am certain I will be posting on many such words in the days to come, for the journey these words take me on is truly awe-inspiring.
Luminescence is the emission of light by a material after it has absorbed energy.
– Solid State Chemistry and its Applications.
by Anthony R. West
Pictured below is a solution of luminol under UV light.
An Apprenticeship is written by Clarice Lispector.
One of the pages in the book reads: Luminescence.
I haven’t read the book, but I am moved by Lispector’s writing. Currently reading her A Breath of Life.
Google Books tells me this little something about An Apprenticeship:
An Apprenticeship is Clarice’s attempt to discover just how two people might be joined. Lori’s is not an easy journey, and consequently the book is roughly written, lurching, sometimes giving the impression of an incomplete first draft.
it contains some of the most beautiful passages Clarice ever wrote.
– Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
Moser further writes that this is the book where Lispector uses rather avant-garde devices in punctuation. It famously begins with a comma and ends with a colon, he adds. Words aren’t properly capitalised either.
On reading this, my mind immediately raced to Aram Saroyan.
Saroyan is an American poet known for his minimalist poetry. In the 1960s Saroyan stopped the literary world in its tracks and caused a lot more than eyebrows to be raised when he wrote his single word misspelled poem smack-dab in the centre of a sheet of paper. It was:
Disruptive luminescence. Closing the post with that welcome thought.