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

Various Experiences Remodelled As Entertaining Anecdotes Or Jokes


…the embarrassment I always felt with people I didn’t know, the thought that I was boring and of no interest and that actually they didn’t want to be here, was completely absent. There was something about him I trusted. What I discussed with Geir that evening I couldn’t have discussed with anyone else I had met in Bergen, not even Yngve. You carried your inner thoughts and passions within you, and perhaps shared with a partner — what did I know about such matters — at any rate it wasn’t something you brought up one night you were on the town, it would have killed everything, caused others to shy away. Because it was all about having a good time, laughing, telling stories or arguing till the sparks flew, but about matters that were outside your inner life, about what was between people, about what they shared. Bands, films, books, other students, lectures, girls, various experiences remodelled as entertaining anecdotes or jokes.
There was nothing of that this evening.

–Karl Ove Knausgaard, from My Struggle: Book Five (Some Rain Must Fall) p. 268

Grow your yoga until nothing is left out

To know yoga as only a sequence of postures, is a partial understanding and thus only a partial expression of yoga.

What if for 30 days you committed to doing a little more to bring health to your body, calm to your mind, space for your spirit?

What if your definition of yoga expanded to encompass everything on and off the mat? That what you think and do in your life became your “yoga” and the “challenge” was simply to remember this each and every day?

Grow your yoga until nothing is left out. That’s yoga.

— Lena Del Mar

To Dance Is To Heighten Your Experience Of The Present Moment

You are dancers, all of you. Life moves you; life dances you. To dance is to investigate and celebrate the experience of being alive. Like life, a dance creates and destroys itself in every moment. Like love, it is beyond reason. Ephemeral as breath, concrete as bone, dance is made of you. You sculpt space. You write with your body in a wordless language that is deeply understood. You grace the space within and around you when you dance. Force, trajectory, inertia, and recovery: dancing is a ride, a duet between your instinct and imagination. To dance is to heighten your experience of the present moment. Your body is your location – when you dance, you are profoundly engaged in being there.

-Crystal Pite