When we talk to each other things fall out of our pockets. —Adam Phillips
Text is a way of voice, a speaking to the ear and to the eye. Letters were once bodies, are bodies now. They are not symbols, are not static. Nothing is static; nothing is unmoving. Not ink, not thread. Everything is energy. Text is a happening. In some moments, letters become an extension of my physical body: when I am writing them, or thinking them, or when I am pressing my eyes over their dark bodies on the page. A page, like a letter, has a sound. It speaks. It moves. Once spoken, once touched with the eye, it is loose—an energy from a cage to which it cannot be returned. It goes on forever and will outlast its maker. —Natalie Diaz
The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning. —Grace Paley
(Sculpture by Benjamin Heller)
All those things for which we have no words are lost. The mind – the culture – has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel. With these we bluster about the continents and do all the world’s work. With these we try to save our very lives. —Annie Dillard
I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are our family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves—we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other's destiny.
I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.
—Mary Oliver, Upstream
"No one has yet made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn't that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of a formlessness that is beyond the edge." —Mary Oliver, Upstream
There is something wonderful in watching a figure emerge from the stone unsummoned, feeling the presence of something within you, the writer, and also beyond you – something consistent, wilful, and benevolent, that seems to have a plan, which seems to be: to lead you to your own higher ground. —George Saunders
"To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.” —Rebecca Solnit
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
It might be better to say that all of us need to flee blindly from time to time so as not to become copies of the world's expectations, and maybe, too, to give us the courage to remember some of those great, bold thoughts that made a child get up in the night, heart pounding, and write down a secret promise for his life.
—Frederick Sjöberg, The Fly Trap
I stretched by back and started two lists. What does it mean to love a person? What does it mean to love a place? Before long, I discovered I had made two copies of the same list. To love—a person and a place—means at least this:
One. To want to be near it, physically.
Number two. To want to know everything about it—its story, its moods, what it looks like by moonlight.
Number three. To rejoice in the fact of it.
Number four. To fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries.
Five. To protect it—fiercely, mindlessly, futile, and maybe tragically, but to be helpless to do otherwise.
Six. To be transformed in its presence—lifted, lighter on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new.
Number seven. To want to be joined with it, taken in by it, lost in it.
Number eight. To want the best for it.
Number nine. Desperately.
I knew there was something important missing from my list, but I was struggling to put it into words. Loving isn't just a state of being, it's a way of acting in the world. Love isn't a sort of bliss, it's a kind of work, sometimes hard, spirit-testing work. To love a person is to accept the responsibility to act lovingly toward them, to make their needs your own needs. To love a place is to care for it, to keep it healthy, to attend to its needs as if they were your own, because they are your own. Responsibility grows from love. It is the natural shape of caring.
-Kathleen Dean Moore, The Pine Island Paradox
The great and mysterious thing about this reading experience is this: the more discriminatingly, the more sensitively, and the more associatively we learn to read, the more clearly we see every thought and every poem in its uniqueness, its individuality, in its precise limitations and see that all beauty, all charm depend on this individuality and uniqueness — at the same time we come to realize ever more clearly how all these hundred thousand voices of nations strive toward the same goals, call upon the same gods by different names, dream the same wishes, suffer the same sorrows. Out of the thousandfold fabric of countless languages and books of several thousand years, in ecstatic instants there stares at the reader a marvelously noble and transcendent chimera: the countenance of humanity, charmed into unity from a thousand contradictory features.
-Hermann Hesse, My Belief: Essays on Life and Art
"I am a glorifier, not very high up
on the vocational chart, and I glorify everything I see,
everything I can think of. I want ordinary men and women,
brushing their teeth, to feel the ocean in their mouth.
I am going to glorify the sink with toothpaste spat in it.
I am going to say it's a stretch of beach where the foam
rolls back and leaves little shells."
-Mary Ruefle, "Glory"
"…it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved."
-David Foster Wallace
What is important is this: we've not yet explored nor understood our own sexualities. Sexuality is a world. Maybe we should take a break from colonizing every thing and every one and every place and every resource within our reach and learn to "discover"—without colonizing—our own bodies. We are as amazing as planets and space. In fact, we ARE star stuff.
How someone can become empowered to take control of it for themselves is this: invent the language that precisely corresponds to your experience. Or stage a break-in to regular language and fuck it up.
For writers, money woes are the world outside tugging on us, yanking at the tails we have buried deep in our throats, reminding us that the world within is an illusion. And we resent this. We possess the knowledge that the world outside is an illusion too. We long, without quite admitting it, to disappear inside ourselves. We long to create. We resist being created. For that which is created is also destroyed one day. But that which creates. . . .
I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, nonindividual activities that this age forces on all of us.
"Now here we both are. And I am writing to you.
I have to roll up my sleeves to do so."
—Amy Hempel, Tumble Home
To be young is to be particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of luck: to tear open an envelope and discover that your life has been set upon a course you could not have predicted.
—Joyce Carol Oates, "Nighthawk"
"I was beginning to realize that I'd never seen him so upset before. With another part of my mind I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be one of those things kids go through and that I shouldn't make it seem important by pushing it too hard. Still, I didn't think it would do any harm to ask: 'Doesn't all this take a lot of time? Can you make a living at it?'
He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. 'Everything takes time,' he said, 'and—well, yes, sure, I can make a living at it. But what I don't seem to be able to make you understand is that it's the only thing I want to do.'
'Well, Sonny,' I said, gently, "you know people can't always do exactly what they want to do—'
'No, I don't know that,' said Sonny, surprising me. 'I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?'"
—James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues