‘Lay bare our souls’? Yes it’s strange. We socialize, live and toil side by side: companions, lovers, colleagues, childhood friends and yet we know so infinitesimally little about each other and so seldom see each other. Truly look into one another’s eyes. And we’re so fearful whenever it happens. I’ve attempted to change this over the years and try to look into other people’s faces, make a conscious effort to meet their gaze to see what is going on, but also because I desire reality, intensity, life, which is something to do with the fact that I’m getting older, and was as you know, sixty last autumn, and I want everything to be real, tangible. I don’t want to squander the time I have left on sleepwalking through life.
–Fredrik Eklund, Home and Away (p 20)
What do you do when you don’t look someone in the eye?
You defend yourself.
Well, against life, of course.
It is so damned hard to live.
Nothing of what you’ve written so far has given me greater pleasure than what you said about life having to be real, genuine, alive, intense and how you have started looking in people’s eyes in a different way from before. Something opening, not closing. You want to keep the world open. You want to appreciate what is in it. Because you know you don’t have long left. Then it is over. Then it is no more and there will never be anything more. It is only now, and it is now or never.
Nevertheless, I look down, I hide.
I don’t initiate conversations with people on places, I hardly ever talk with my neighbours, and if I do it is the intention of getting away, which of course they notice because it is reflected in your body language.
–Karl One Knausgaard, Home and Away (p 31)
Just for today, I will adjust myself and not try to manipulate the situation.
I think about all the time I spent vigilant, preoccupied, trying to decipher my mother’s relationship with Marcus, Lucy’s relationship with alcohol. It had never occurred to me to that both situations were whatever they were, whether I figured them out or not. And it certainly never crossed my mind that my reaction — my suffering — was mine: something I had come up with, not something I needed to blame on anyone else.
My job is to interpret, and to communicate my interpretation persuasively to other people. The idea that in life, unlike in writing, the drive to analyze and influence might be something worth relinquishing was to me a revelation.
–Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply (p 188)
This is not just surprise and pleasure.
This is not just beauty sometimes
too hot to touch.
This is not a blessing with a beginning
and an end.
This is not just a wild summer.
This is not conditional.
–Mary Oliver, “What This Is Not,” from Felicity
Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthly
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is forever.
–Mary Oliver, “Everything That Was Broken,” from Felicity
Sometimes my awareness of my own competence alarmed me. How would I remain attached to the world if not by need? I didn’t appear to need anyone: I could do it all myself. I was both halves: did that mean I was whole? In a sense I was living at the high point of feminist possibility: there was no blueprint beyond “having it all.” The richness of that phrase, its suggestion of an unabashed splendour, was apposite. To have both motherhood and work was to have two lives instead of one, was a stunning refinement of historical female experience, and to the people who have complained that having it all means doing it all I would have said, yes, of course it does. You don’t get “all” for nothing. “Having it all,” like any form of success, requires hard work. But the hero is solitary, forever searching out the holy grail, her belief that she is exceptional perhaps only a disguise for the fact that she is essentially alone.
–Rachel Cusk, from Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (p. 23)
Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?
–Patti Smith writing of her Nobel Prize performance in The New Yorker
Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.
So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.
–Mary Oliver, “The Gift” from Felicity
“I wonder now about Demeter and Persephone. Maybe Persephone was glad to run off with the king of death to his underground realm, maybe it was the only way she could break away from her mother, maybe Demeter was a bad parent the way Lear was a bad parent, denying nature, including the nature of children to leave their parents. Maybe Persephone thought Hades was the infinitely cool older man who held the knowledge she sought, maybe she loved the darkness, the six months of winter, the sharp taste of pomegranates, the freedom from her mother, maybe she knew that to be truly alive death had to be part of the picture just as winter must. It was as the queen of hell that she became an adult and came into power. Hades’s realm is called the underworld, and so are the urban realms of everything outside the law. And as in Hopi creation myths, where humans and other beings emerge from underground, so it’s from the underground that culture emerges in this civilization.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
What if you could almost literally get a look at the path not taken? What if you could consider the differences between the teen you and the adult you in stark contrast? Would you regret the choices you made? Would you change your life?
–Brian Tallerico reviews Blue Jay
No I’d never been to this country
before. No, I didn’t know where the roads
would lead me. No, I didn’t intend to
–Mary Oliver, “No I’d Never Been to This Country,” from Felicity