10 Rules for Students and Teachers

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

–Popularized by John Cage, written by Corita Kent

When All The World Is Shining

The nuns taught us there were two ways through life—the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you, whatever comes.

–Terrence Malick, from The Tree of Life

Why Do We Lose Interest In Physical Mastery?

And we the people are so vulnerable. our bodies are shot with mortality. Our legs are fear and our arms are time. These chill humors seep through our capillaries, weighting each cell with an icy dab of nonbeing, and that dab grows and swells and sucks the cell dry. That is why physical courage is important–-it fills, as it were, the holes–-and why it is so invigorating. The least brave act, chance taken and passage won, makes you feel loud as a child.

But it gets harder. The courage of children and beasts is a function of innocence. We let our bodies go the way of our fears…Why do we lose interest in physical mastery? If I feel like turning cartwheels–-and I do–-why don’t I learn to turn cartwheels, instead of regretting that I never learned as a child? We could all be aerialists like squirrels, divers like seals; we could be purely patient, perfectly fleet, walking on our hands even, if our living or stature required it. We can’t even sit straight, or support our weary heads.

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 91.

The Essential Goodness Of The Nation

If you are, as I am, a sentimental middle-aged person who cherishes certain Coplandian notions about the essential goodness of the nation, seeing this kind of thing in person—adults shouting wrathfully at one another with no intention of persuasion, invested only in escalating spite—will inject a palpable sadness into your thinning, under-exercised legs, and you may find yourself collapsing, post-rally, against a tree in a public park, feeling hopeless. Craving something positive (no more fighting, no more invective, please, please), forcing yourself to your feet, you may cross a busy avenue and find, in a mini-mall themed like Old Mexico, a wedding about to begin. Up will walk the bridesmaids, each leading, surprisingly, a dog on a leash, and each dog is wearing a tutu, and one, a puppy too small to be trusted in a procession, is being carried, in its tutu, in the arms of its bridesmaid.
        And this will somehow come as an unbelievable relief.
        LeftLand and RightLand are housemates who are no longer on speaking terms. And then the house is set on fire. By Donald Trump. Good people from both subnations gape at one another through the smoke.
         From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, Be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal.
        The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed, and that violence has infused everything we do—our entertainments, our sex, our schools, our ads, our jokes, our view of the earth itself, somehow even our food. It sends our young people abroad in heavy armor, fills public spaces with gunshots, drives people quietly insane in their homes.
        Although, to me, Trump seems the very opposite of a guardian angel, I thank him for this: I’ve never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail.
        But I imagine it that way now.
        –George Saunders on Donald Trump for The New Yorker

Something Undeniable And Nontrivial Happens

I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. . . . In fact, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it.

–Joel Lovell interviews George Saunders for The New York Times Magazine

The Ground Is Sacred

There is something in the student-teacher exchange that is ancient, simple and powerful.

The ground is sacred, and it’s where you leave an imprint.

The goal is to get to a place where you actually have intuition, and that is the absolute in terms of art, where there’s no question, you just know.

There’s something that’s always present, we call the witness. Every artist talks about it — it’s that bigger objective. How could you not want to participate in that?

In the realm of art-making, what you’re really doing is training the heart and the mind.

The mirror is a problem, it’s kind of a habit in Western dance, for the most part the mirror is doubt, and doubt leads to failure.

The teacher is waking up the sleeping artist in the student. The dancer is listening to his own internal teacher, that’s what you want to wake up.

–Alonzo King (see video here)

This Exalted State

You know when you’re saying goodby to someone at the airport that you love and you get all soft. And you get, ‘Oh my God I hardly know you.’ What if that’s the truth, if that mode times ten is the mode we should exist in all the time? Then on another day you’re just yourself. There’s big gap between those two people. So, how much time do I spend in that regular old habitual stupid mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed to this exalted state of being super-tenderized to the people you care about. And I’m guessing that, if there’s a heaven, it’s that at the airport times ten or twenty, or a thousand.

–George Saunders, interviewed by Max Linsky on Longform (found via Sampler)
Thanks to In A Spacious Place for typing up this quote

There’s So Much More In Here

The kind of energy and weight you bring into the room, like a team — when the energy is less, from your contribution, it pulls down, when it’s more it pulls up. If everyone is giving equal energy it’s an invincible alchemy that changes you. When I see you going to the mirror, I know that’s doubt and that you’re not really inside the three worlds: body, mind, spirit — they all have to be informed and they all need to be tapped into so that you can go into a place of deep concentration, and some of you want to remain on the surface, and it cheats you and I want to tell you, this isn’t for me, it’s for you.

When the body is tired, spirit inspires — they all support each other, but some of you insist on being external, and so it’s like your cheating yourself. I wish you would, against your will, say there’s so much more in here, believe it or not, that I can explore. And the other thing, is I know that there’s more, and I know that there’s better. And it’s also, how do you give to the group and how do you give to the greater world, it’s much bigger than the mechanics of what we call classical ballet.

–Alonzo King

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Confused

The last time we met, Saunders waited in the cold with me until the bus for New York came along. We were talking about the idea of abiding, of the way that you can help people flourish just by withholding judgment, if you open yourself up to their possibilities, as Saunders put it, just as you would open yourself up to a story’s possibilities.

I would say that this is precisely the effect that Saunders’s fiction has on you. It “softens the borders,” as he put it in one of our conversations. “Between you and me, between me and me,  between the reader and the writer.” It makes you wiser, better, more disciplined in your openness to the experience of other people.

It’s hard to maintain, the softness. It’s an effort. That Dubai story ends with these lines, wisdom imparted from Saunders to himself: “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

–Joel Lovell interviews George Saunders for The New York Times Magazine

My Entire Register

My heart was heavy as I left, it was me he had been avoiding, there was no doubt about it, but why, what was it about me?

Oh, I knew of course, I felt it all the time, there was something about me people didn’t want to know, something they tried to avoid if they could. Something I had, something about the way I behaved.

But what was it?

I didn’t know.

I didn’t say a lot, of course, I could safely assume that this was noticed and commented on unfavourably. Perhaps also that what I did say tended to be about inappropriate topics. What I said was often heartfelt, at least as soon as I was with someone, and people shied away from that like the plague. The alternative was to say nothing at all. These were my only modi vivendi, it was my entire register.

–Karl Ove Knausgaard, from My Struggle: Book Five (Some Rain Must Fall) p. 386