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The Fascination of what's difficult
I first came upon this quote in David Esterly's The Lost Carving, which i reread recently.  It's one of my favorite books.

"The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart."

--W. B. Yates

This resonates strongly with me.  My first thought is that the fascination with what's difficult is an addiction to achievement, that heady feeling to which we develop such a tolerance that the goal gets pushed higher and higher until only a trascendent art will satisfy.  But that doesn't really make sense.  Rather it's an addiction to the striving that seems to give life purpose, while at the same time robbing it of joy, because the goal and the presumed satisfaction  of achieving it is constantly being pushed out of reach.  It sounds funny, but unless the goal is set impossibly high, i'm not really interested in pursuing it.  I tell myself, it's okay to be satisfied, but then my mind races on to the next challenge.  There can be joy in that if you can make peace with failure.  Making peace with failure: next challenge.

A Passion for Reality
"The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality." -- W. B. Yates

I liked this quote particularly for the last bit, but it intrigues me in other ways.  What does he mean by "anti-self" or "antithetical self"?  Since he was into theosophy, i assume he is refering to what is known in Eastern religions as the capital "S" "Self" that is one with God or all there is as opposed to the small, egoic, individual "self."  But what a funny, intereting way to put it: the higher self is not only "no self" but "anti-", a negation of self, like the dark matter that destroys ego.  I think the Buddha would have liked that.

Seeds of Contemplation
The following appears as an epigraph in Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir:

"Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.  I wind my experiences around myself and cover myself with glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.  But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed, I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation.  I am objectified in them.  But they are all destined by their contingency to be destroyed.  And when they are gone there will be nothing left but my own nakedness and empitness and hollowness, to tell me I am my own mistake."  --  Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

On the surface this sounds bleak.  But ultimately i found it uplifting.  We are all free.

Katharine Butler Hathaway
Katharine Butler Hathaway wrote one book, The Little Locksmith.  It was published a few months after she died.  Three years later, The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith was published.  I have a first edition.  There may have been only one.  The price on the back: $2.50.  An incredible bargain for such a treasure.  I’ve just finished rereading it.  I thought I’d share a few excerpts from this rare volume.

From a letter to a friend and fellow artist:

“You and I both suffered from wrong beginnings, and it seems to me we represent something and can express something that is valuable, and you have, and will again.  Don’t despair.  Everybody does despair, though.  That is one of the symptoms of being an artist.  The more sensitive and well endowed you are, the less likely that you will be understood as you wish to be.”

This lengthy passage is from her journals.  I couldn’t bear to cut it down anymore.  You’re welcome:

Read more...Collapse )

Reading fiction has curative properties:


There was so much i loved about this article, it was hard to choose just one quote to entice you into reading it.  I settled on this one:

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

A Taste of Maso
Quotations from The Room Lit by Roses by Carole Maso:

"Writing has taught me as much.  An endeavor of utter discipline and utter playfulness.  Rigor and recklessness.  To control and to relinquish control."

"The pressure to conform is enormous.  In ordinarly and not-so-ordinary ways.  I have pressed back against it my whole life: the pressure to make books that look like other books, to write more legibly, to give up what is mine, and quietly."

"And while we're at it, what is the word in American for the similar phenomenon of deliberately cutting off a dream or potential for the simple reason that it is not profitable?"

"The fact is no work of mine once it is published interests me in the least."

"What was i thinking?  To create a being who is giong to suffer.  To be responsible, utterly, for someone's death.  A grave indictment.  It was not a lark.  Did I take this all too lightly?  How else was I to take it and still go forward?"

"Words fail, even more than unusal."

Also included, this poem:

A nothing
we were, are, shall
remain flowering:
the nothing--, the
no one's rose...
                --Paul Celan, PSALM

Carole Maso has a website
Unsurprisingly, it's:  http://carolemaso.com/

I don't think this existed the last time i looked for it.  Maso is one of favorite authors.  I've read all of her books save this one, currently on sale from Dzanc Books:


Yes, it is loaded, and i'm ready to start reading.

I haven't loved all of Maso's books.  I didn't much care for Aureole or her latest, Mother and Child, but The Art Lover is among my all time favorites.  Her work is always interesting, challenging and different.  She doesn't repeat herself.  Looking forward to seeing what she does next.

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

Wow.  I hardly know what to say.  I knew i had to read this book after i chanced upon the movie in the library.  The movie was excellent, and so intriguing.  Now i can say it was a good adaptation as well.

Reading this book felt--holy.  Part science fiction, part survival story, part self reflection, and wholly beautiful.  An unamed narrator finds herself alone in a mountain lodge due to mysterious circumstances ("the wall").  She devotes herself to caring for the animals who are stranded along with her: a dog, a cat and a cow.  There's a bit of philosophizing, a few dips into backstory, but the bulk of the book is getting down to the business of living--collecting food, wood, etc.  Her relationship with each of the animals is intense and moving.  The ending came as a shock despite having seen the movie.

Read this book.

More Knausgaard
            “Over recent years I had increasingly lost faith in literature.  I read and thought this is something someone has made up.  Perhaps it was because we were totally inundated with fiction and stories.  It had got out of hand.  Wherever you turned you saw fiction.  All these millions of paperbacks, hardbacks, DVDs and TV series, they were all about made-up people in a made-up, though realistic, world.  And news in the press, TV news and radio news had exactly the same format, documentaries had the same format, they were also stories, and it made no difference whether what they told had actually happened or not.  It was a crisis, I felt it in every fiber of my body, something saturating was spreading though my consciousness like lard, not the least because the nucleus of all this fiction, whether true or not, was verisimilitude and the distance it held to reality was constant.  In other words, it saw the same.  This sameness, which was our world, was being mass-produced.  The uniqueness, which they all talked about, was thereby invalidated, it didn’t exist, it was a lie.  Living like this, with the certainty that everything could equally well have been different, drove you to despair.  I couldn’t write like this, it wouldn’t work, every single sentence was met with the thought: but you’re just making this up.  It has no value.  Fictional writing has no value, documentary narrative has no value.  The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet.  What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person?  Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same height as our own gaze.  Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with.  You meet its gaze alone.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Two (http://www.amazon.com/My-Struggle-Book-Two-Love/dp/1935744828/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=)

This is such a long passage to unpack and discuss, I thought about abbreviating it or chopping it up, but here it is.  It has so much of my own feeling in it, some as an avid, lifelong reader of fiction, a lot as a writer of same.  What he says about being inundated with fiction, drowning it—do I need to add another bucketful to that ocean?  Do I even want to?  More and more, the answer is no.  But I am still a writer, love writing, and write everyday, nowadays with no intention other than self satisfaction and insight.  Nonetheless I miss the feeling of being productive, of being a “real writer,” though I can’t help seeing that former self as anything other than a delusion.  If all of life is a series of transitions, then I’m acutely aware of being in the midst of flux, with the trace of a hope of finding something stable I can plant my flag of identity on.

Knausgaard writes of diaries and essays—but these are also narrative forms, no?  I wonder if there is a quirk in the translation from Norwegian.  Poetry is the unmentioned obvious.

Voice, yes.  I am a reader of voices and always have been.  Nothing else matters nearly so much.  The most exciting thing about reading is allowing another consciousness into your own.  It is a private act, performed alone with a book, and yet, it’s hard to imagine a way of being more intimate with another.

Not sure where I’m going, but it’s interesting and inspiring to meet another with similar thoughts and see what he had made of them.  I don’t think I’ll be writing a 3000 page memoir.  Pretty sure about that.

"The critical reading of the texts always resulted in parts being deleted. So that was what I did. My writing became more and more minimalist. In the end, I couldn't write at all. For seven or eight years, I hardly wrote. But then I had a revelation. What if I did the opposite? What if, when a sentence or a scene was bad, I expanded it, and poured in more and more? After I started to do that, I became free in my writing. Fuck quality, fuck perfection, fuck minimalism. My world isn't minimalist; my world isn't perfect, so why on earth should my writing be?" -- Karl Ove Knausgaard (http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2014/mar/01/karl-ove-knausgaard-norway-proust-profile)

I share his distaste for minimalism.  Despite this, as my work moved more toward realism, it also grew more minimalistic.  This may be the reason i've lost my taste for writing fiction.  Is there something about realism that calls for a minimalistic style?  Or is that just the zeitgeist?  Because it begs the question asked by Knausgaard.