Blog Entries tagged 'writing'
What Is Seized
In the wedding photos they wear white against the murky dark oftrees. They are thin and elegant. They have placid smiles. The mouth of the father of the bride remains in a short, straight line. I don't know who took these pictures. I suppose they are lies of sorts, revealing by omission, by indirection, by clues such as shoes and clouds. But they tell a truth, the only way lies can. The way only lies can.
Another morning, I heard my parents up early in the bathroom, my dad shaving, getting ready to leave for school.
"Look," he said in a loud whisper. "I really can't say that I'll never leave you and the kids or that I'll never make love to another woman--"
"Why not?" asked my mother. "Why can't you say that?" Even her anger was gentle, ingenuous.
"Because I don't feel that way."
"But ... can't you just say it anyway?"
At this I like to imagine that my parents met each other's gaze in the medicine cabinet mirror, suddenly grinning. But later in the hospital bed, holding my hand and touching each of my nails slowly with her index finger, my mother said to me, "Your father. He was in a dance. And he just couldn't dance." Earlier that year she had written me: "That is what is wrong with cold people. Not that they have ice in their souls - we all have a bit of that - but that they insist their every word and deed mirror that ice. They never learn the beauty or value of gesture. The emotional necessity. For them, it is all honesty before kindness, truth before art. Love is art, not truth. It's like painting scenery."
These are the things one takes from mothers. Once they die, of course, you get the strand of pearls, the blue quilt, some of the original wedding gifts - a tray shellacked with the invitation, an old rusted toaster - but the touches and the words and the moaning the night she dies, these are what you seize, save, carry around in little invisible envelopes, opening them up quickly, like a carnival huckster, giving the world a peek. They will not stay quiet. No matter how you try. No matter how you lick them. The envelopes will not stay glued.
Excerpted from Self-Help.
Be Near Me
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Translated by Naomi Lazard
Be near me now,
My tormenter, my love, be near me—
At this hour when night comes down,
When, having drunk from the gash of sunset, darkness comes
With the balm of musk in its hands, its diamond lancets,
When it comes with cries of lamentation,
with laughter with songs;
Its blue-gray anklets of pain clinking with every step.
At this hour when hearts, deep in their hiding places,
Have begun to hope once more, when they start their vigil
For hands still enfolded in sleeves;
When wine being poured makes the sound
of inconsolable children
who, though you try with all your heart,
cannot be soothed.
When whatever you want to do cannot be done,
When nothing is of any use;
—At this hour when night comes down,
When night comes, dragging its long face,
dressed in mourning,
Be with me,
My tormenter, my love, be near me.
Really appreciate this series of perspectives from the Times on digital vs analog reading.
I especially resonated with this one by Maryanne Wolf, John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”
After many years of research on how the human brain learns to read,
I came to an unsettlingly simple conclusion: We humans were never born
to read. We learn to do so by an extraordinarily ingenuous ability to
rearrange our “original parts” — like language and vision, both of
which have genetic programs that unfold in fairly orderly fashion
within any nurturant environment. Reading isn’t like that.
Each young reader has to fashion an entirely new “reading circuit” afresh every time. There is no one neat circuit just waiting to unfold. This means that the circuit can become more or less developed depending on the particulars of the learner: e.g., instruction, culture, motivation, educational opportunity.
Equally interesting, this tabula rasa circuit is shaped by the particular requirements of the writing system: for example, Chinese reading circuits require more visual memory than alphabets. This “open architecture” of the reading circuit makes the young reader’s developing circuit malleable to what the medium (e.g., digital online reading, book, etc) emphasizes.
And that, of course, is the problem at hand. No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain. We do know a great deal, however, about the formation of what we know as the expert reading brain that most of us possess to this point in history.
"Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling. There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments…you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.
"Years later, when Pushkin became famous, one teacher grumbled: “What’s all this fuss about Pushkin? He was a scamp—nothing more!” Engelgardt, the Lycée headmaster, took an even stronger dislike to his most famous pupil. His school report in 1816:
"Pushkin’s higher and only goal is to shine—in poetry, to be precise, though it is doubtful indeed he will ever succeed, because he shuns any serious scholarship, and his mind, utterly lacking in perspicacity or depth, is a completely superficial, frivolous French mind. And that is in fact the best thing that can be said about Pushkin. His heart is cold and empty: there is neither love nor religion in it. It is perhaps as empty as ever any youth’s heart has ever been."
"Anyone who’s ever dabbled in Zen Buddhism knows that “emptiness” can sometimes be an achievement of the highest order. Perhaps the very “emptiness” --or openness-- of Pushkin’s heart made it a perfect vessel for sublime expressions of love. His “emptiness” was a treasure not to be cluttered with skills for “the service of the state”. Already in the Lycee he had decided:
Farewell to ye, cold sciences!
I’m now from youthful games estranged!
I am a poet now; I’ve changed.
Within my soul both sounds and silence
Pour into one another, live,
In measures sweet both take and give.
So as many of you know, I love great design.
Crews is someone I've wanted to interview for years--his graphic work is that strong--and as I'm working on a book at the moment that integrates the visual arts, I sought him out.
I found him, and also the work of his daughter, Nina Crews, who is a terrific illustrator in her own right. I also found an interview with her in which she mentioned a favorite children's book that inspired her work.
It's called Nothing Ever Happens On My Block by Ellen Raskin. It was published in 1965. I immediately ordered it from Amazon. It arrived yesterday and is FANTASTIC. It's about a boy, Chester Filbert, who declares nothing ever happens on his block while a dozen fascinating stories play out behind him.
What makes the book so great, aside from its lovely, lovely design, is the way the six or seven mini-narratives unfold in the graphics behind Filbert. You have to keep going back to find the early versions of each one to follow them, which ends up feeling like a cross between a treasure hunt and reading six books in one.
And that's my post for today. Even when we think nothing is going on, we are at the center of an untold number of stories. We just have to wake up to them. Then we won't be like Chester Filbert, thinking nothing ever happens when really, we are at the center of universe.
Creative people are inspired by the creativity of others. Which hopefully explains why I've just spent an hour poring over Swedish fabrics from the 1940s.
My favorite of the collection is called, appropriately, Brown Hawaii:
I was thrilled to write the foreword for this book of images and narratives of multiracial people in America.
The Honolulu Advertiser covered it yesterday.