Brainpicking chapter 3 human being

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!

Any human being who does not wish to be part of the masses need only stop making things easy for himself. Let him follow his conscience, which calls out to him: “Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring, all that is not you.”
Every young soul hears this call by day and by night and shudders with excitement at the premonition of that degree of happiness which eternities have prepared for those who will give thought to their true liberation. There is no way to help any soul attain this happiness, however, so long as it remains shackled with the chains of opinion and fear. And how hopeless and meaningless life can become without such a liberation! There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever.

Emotions should be understood as “geological upheavals of thought”: as judgments in which people acknowledge the great importance, for their own flourishing, of things that they do not fully control – and acknowledge thereby their neediness before the world and its events.

A lot is at stake in the decision to view emotions in this way, as intelligent responses to the perception of value. If emotions are suffused with intelligence and discernment, and if they contain in themselves an awareness of value or importance, they cannot, for example, easily be sidelined in accounts of ethical judgment, as so often they have been in the history of philosophy. Instead of viewing morality as a system of principles to be grasped by the detached intellect, and emotions as motivations that either support or subvert our choice to act according to principle, we will have to consider emotions as part and parcel of the system of ethical reasoning. We cannot plausibly omit them, once we acknowledge that emotions include in their content judgments that can be true or false, and good or bad guides to ethical choice. We will have to grapple with the messy material of grief and love, anger and fear, and the role these tumultuous experiences play in thought about the good and the just.
[…]
Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself

I only hope it is some good. I have very grave doubts sometimes. I don’t want this to seem hurried. It must be just as slow and measured as the rest but I am sure of one thing – it isn’t the great book I had hoped it would be. It’s just a run-of-the-mill book. And the awful thing is that it is absolutely the best I can do. Now to work on it.

My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads. I simply must get this thing out of my system. I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.
I’ll get the book done if I just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.

Every book seems the struggle of a whole life. And then, when it is done – pouf. Never happened. Best thing is to get the words down every day. And it is time to start now.

In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. There is no possibility, in me at least, of saying, “I’ll do it if I feel like it.” One never feels like awaking day after day. In fact, given the smallest excuse, one will not work at all. The rest is nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can work that way, but I cannot. I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.

You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.

A similar use can be made of hunger, fatigue, fear, and of everything that imperatively constrains the sentient part of the soul to cry: I can bear no more! Make it stop! There should be something in us that answers: I consent that it should continue up to the moment of death, or that it should not even finish then, but continue for ever. Then it is that the soul is as if divided by a two-edged sword.
To make use in this way of the sufferings that chance inflicts upon us is better than inflicting discipline upon oneself.

The way to make use of physical pain. When suffering no matter what degree of pain, when almost the entire soul is inwardly crying “Make it stop, I can bear no more,” a part of the soul, even though it be an infinitesimally small part, should say: “I consent that this should continue throughout the whole of time, if the divine wisdom so ordains.” The soul is then split in two. For the physically sentient part of the soul is – at least sometimes – unable to consent to pain. This splitting in two of the soul is a second pain, a spiritual one, and even sharper than the physical pain that causes it.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one – my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art – the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry – and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power – almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.

Love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by him… [All] attempts for love are bound to fail, unless [one] tries most actively to develop [one’s] total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation; …satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement.
[…]
There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.

There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment.
[…]
Beauty always has rules. It’s a game. I resent the beauty game when I see it controlled by people who grab fortunes from it and don’t care who they hurt. I hate it when I see it making people so self-dissatisfied that they starve and deform and poison themselves. Most of the time I just play the game myself in a very small way, buying a new lipstick, feeling happy about a pretty new silk shirt.
[…]
There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness… A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.
I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony… A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.

We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.
[…]
As we rise in the social scale the pursuit of excitement becomes more and more intense.

To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.
To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention.
When we make moral judgments, we are not just saying that this is better than that. Even more fundamentally, we are saying that this is more important than that. It is to order the overwhelming spread and simultaneity of everything, at the price of ignoring or turning our backs on most of what is happening in the world.
The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention – a capacity that, inevitably, has its limits but whose limits can be stretched.
But perhaps the beginning of wisdom, and humility, is to acknowledge, and bow one’s head, before the thought, the devastating thought, of the simultaneity of everything, and the incapacity of our moral understanding – which is also the understanding of the novelist – to take this in.

I’m often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: “Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”
Needless to say, no sooner had these perky phrases fallen out of my mouth than I thought of some more recipes for writer’s virtue.
For instance: “Be serious.” By which I meant: Never be cynical. And which doesn’t preclude being funny.

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.
[…]
The unhappy one is absent… It is only the person who is present to himself that is happy.

Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy – to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.

An honorable human relationship – that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” – is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

The peaceful land of Punctuation
is filled with tension overnight
When the stops and commas of the nation
call the semicolons “parasites”
Within the hour they form their troops,
an anti-semicolon group
The question marks avoid the scrape
(as always) and quietly escape
The semicolons’ mournful racket
is drowned out by surrounding brackets
And then the captured creature freezes
Imprisoned by parentheses
The dreaded minus sign arrives
and – slash! – ends the captives’ lives
The question marks, now homeward-bound,
pity the corpses on the ground
But, woe! A new war looms large,
as dashes against commas charge
And cut across the commas’ necks
so that the beheaded wrecks
(the dashes delight in gore)
as semicolons hit the floor
Both semicolon types they bury
in silence in the cemetery
Those dashes that still remain,
Creep blackly behind the mourning train
The exclamation holds a sermon
with colon’s help, right on the spot
Then through their comma-form free nation
They all march home: dash, dot, dash, dot…

I have no doubt that our thinking goes on for the most part without use of signs (words) and beyond that to a considerable degree unconsciously. For how, otherwise, should it happen that we sometimes “wonder” quite spontaneously about some experience? This “wondering” appears to occur when an experience comes into conflict with a world of concepts already sufficiently fixed within us. Whenever such a conflict is experienced sharply and intensely it reacts back upon our world of thought in a decisive way. The development of this world of thought is in a certain sense a continuous flight from “wonder.”
A wonder of this kind I experienced as a child of four or five years when my father showed me a compass. That this needle behaved in such a determined way did not at all fit in the kind of occurrences that could find a place in the unconscious world of concepts (efficacy produced by direct “touch”). I can still remember – or at least believe I can remember – that this experience made a deep and lasting impression upon me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.

NARCISSA
Some of the girls are playing jacks.
Some are playing ball.
But small Narcissa is not playing
Anything at all.
Small Narcissa sits upon
A brick in her back yard
And looks at tiger-lilies,
And shakes her pigtails hard.
First she is an ancient queen
In pomp and purple veil.
Soon she is a singing wind.
And, next, a nightingale.
How fine to be Narcissa,
A-changing like all that!
While sitting still, as still, as still
As anyone ever sat!

CYNTHIA IN THE SNOW
It SUSHES.
It hushes
The loudness in the road.
It flitter-twitters,
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely whiteness,
And whitely whirs away,
To be
Some otherwhere,
Still white as milk or shirts.
So beautiful it hurts.

GERTRUDE
When I hear Marian Anderson sing,
I am a STUFFless kind of thing.
Heart is like the flying air.
I cannot find it anywhere.
Fingers tingle. I am cold
And warm and young and very old.
But, most, I am a STUFFless thing
When I hear Marian Anderson sing.

VAL
When grown-ups at parties are laughing,
I do not like the sound.
It doesn’t have any frosting.
It doesn’t go up from the ground.
So when my Daddy chased me
Away from the bend in the stair,
With a “Get about your business!”
I didn’t really care.
I’d rather be in the basement.
I’d rather be outside.
I’d rather get my bicycle
And ride.

“The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring, and after one has found out that one can never please the people they wanted to please.

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it.
[…]
That song enters the world and it gets changed, like everything else – that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.

Crisis is unavoidable. Every human life seems to be drawn eventually, as if by some unspoken parallel, some tidal flow or underground magnetic field, toward the raw, dynamic essentials of its existence, as if everything up to that point had been a preparation for a meeting, for a confrontation in an elemental form with our essential flaw, and with what an individual could until then, only receive stepped down, interpreted or diluted.
This experience … where the touchable rawness of life becomes part of the fabric of the everyday, and a robust luminous vulnerability, becomes shot through with the necessary, imminent and inevitable prospect of loss, has been described for centuries as the dark night of the soul: La noche oscura del alma. But perhaps, this dark night could be more accurately described as the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.
[…]
Walking the pilgrim edge between the two, holding them together, is the hardest place to stay, to breathe of both and make a world of both and to be active in their exchange: aware of our need to be needed, our wish to be seen, our constant need for help and succor, but inhabiting a world of luminosity and intensity, subject to the wind and the weather, surrounded by the music of existence, able to be found by the living world and with a wild self-forgetful ability to respond to its call when needed; a rehearsal in fact for the act of dying, a place where inside and outside can reverse and flow with no fixed form.

Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.
[…]
On the inside we come to know who and what and how we love and what we can do to deepen that love; only from the outside and only by looking back, does it look like courage.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on.

Seeing the world from the position of the weak person is a great education. We lack imagination. If we had enough imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we oppress, things would begin to happen. So it is important that we develop the ability to listen to the weak.

If you look at this very small segment of history, then you can talk about it in those terms. If you are frozen in time, you can say yes, it’s awful. And it is really awful. But I think if you take the wide view of things, then you begin to see it as history, as human history over a long period of time, and that we are passing through a bad patch. It’s not death. We are passing through a bad patch, and if we succeed, then even this experience of the bad patch will turn out to be an enrichment.

Those people who found themselves out of things embraced the new way, because it promised them an easy escape from whatever constraints they were suffering under.
[…]
But it was not necessary to throw overboard so much that was thrown overboard… It was not necessary. I think of the damage, not only to the material culture, but to the mind of the people.

“Wherever something stands, something else will stand beside it.” –
There is no one way to anything. The Ibo people who made that proverb are very insistent on this – there is no absolute anything. They are against excess – their world is a world of dualities… If there is one God, fine. There will be others as well. If there is one point of view, fine. There will be a second point of view.

“If you look very carefully you will see that they are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is… What they are saying is don’t upset the system.”

PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

WON’T YOU CELEBRATE WITH ME

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

We have to laugh and we have to dance and we have to remember to do those things that keep us alive and keep us human and keep us together – because we do have that.

It’s good having more than one thing going on at a time, which reminds me that there is more than one thing happening at a time right now and that something very frightening and enormous and awful happened on election day. There are a lot of people in this country and there are a lot of forces and a lot of ways of believing and going about our work, and a lot of love, and a lot of energy. And I think that we have to bear that in mind, always – there is more than one thing happening at once. So, as bad as this is, it’s not the only thing.

A book is nothing but a cube of hot, smoking conscience.
[…]
One forgets that the only thing within our power is the ability to keep the voice of truth within us undistorted.
The inability to find and speak the truth is a failing that no talent for speaking the untruth can disguise

Contemporary trends assume that art is like a fountain, when really it is like a sponge.
They have decided that art ought to gush, but it ought, rather, to suck up and absorb.
They assert that art can be divided into categories according to means of representation, when actually it is composed of organs of perception.
Art must always remain among the spectators and see things more clearly, more truthfully, more perceptively than the others, but in our day it has resorted to using face powder and dressing rooms and displaying itself on the stage. It is as if there were two forms of art and one of them, knowing that it holds the other in reserve, allows itself the luxury of perversion, which is tantamount to suicide. It makes a display of itself when it ought to get lost in the top gallery, in anonymity, and be unaware that it cannot help being discovered, that while shrinking in the corner it is afflicted with a glowing translucence, the phosphorescence that goes with certain diseases.

Ours is the same aloneness, the same searchings and solutions, the same love for the labyrinths of literature and history, and the same role to be played out.

The pursuit of science is more than the pursuit of understanding. It is driven by the creative urge, the urge to construct a vision, a map, a picture of the world that gives the world a little more beauty and coherence than it had before.

“[and] it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep joy and awe that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.”

“Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,”

The inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture… A culture tends to propagate itself, and it will do that by instilling its own sense of possibility in the young.

If we think of the virtues, or human excellences, as they are actually taught by cultures across history, it is plausible to expect that the virtuous person will be ready to tackle the wide variety of challenges that life might throw his way. It is unclear that there is anything in such training that will prepare him for the breakdown of the form of life itself. We would like our ethics to be grounded in psychological reality. Thus whatever flexibility is required of a virtuous person, it ought to be something that can be inculcated in the education and training of a culture. But a culture does not tend to train the young to endure its own breakdown – and it is fairly easy to see why. A culture embodies a sense of life’s possibilities, and it tries to instill that sense in the young. An outstanding young member of the culture will learn to face these possibilities well.

We rightly think that the virtue of courage requires a certain psychological flexibility. A courageous person must know how to act well in all sorts of circumstances. We recognize that there can be times in life when the stock images of courage will be inappropriate, and the truly courageous person will recognize this extraordinary situation and act in an unusual yet courageous way.

That was a beautiful moment that so many elders never thought they’d live to see. So there are things that we don’t yet know, that we don’t think we’re going to live to see, that are also going to give us power and beauty if we hold up our own.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future,”

The interval between stitches seaming two surfaces together is thinking at the pace of the body. Busy hands make a space that allows attention to wander. Productive wandering is how projects are made.

There is no spiritual sustenance in flat equality. It is a dim recognition of this fact which makes much of our political propaganda sound so thin. We are trying to be enraptured by something which is merely the negative condition of the good life. That is why the imagination of people is so easily captured by appeals to the craving for inequality, whether in a romantic form of films about loyal courtiers or in the brutal form of Nazi ideology. The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values: offers food to some need which we have starved.

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent… Legal and economic equality are absolutely necessary remedies for the Fall, and protection against cruelty.

Before the invention of photography, significant moments in the flow of our lives would be like rocks placed in a stream: impediments that demonstrated but didn’t diminish the volume of the flow and around which accrued the debris of memory, rich in sight, smell, taste, and sound. No snapshot can do what the attractive mnemonic impediment can: when we outsource that work to the camera, our ability to remember is diminished and what memories we have are impoverished.

Looking through my long photographic and literary relationship with my own native soil I can perceive a definite kinship with those fakelorish bards wailing away about their place-pain.

Whatever of my memories hadn’t crumbled into dust must surely by now have been altered by the passage of time. I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us farther away.
I had learned over time to meekly accept whatever betrayals memory pulled over on me, allowing my mind to polish its own beautiful lie. In distorting the information it’s supposed to be keeping safe, the brain, to its credit, will often bow to some instinctive aesthetic wisdom, imparting to our life’s events a coherence, logic, and symbolic elegance that’s not present or not so obvious in the improbable, disheveled sloppiness of what we’ve actually been through.

The interval between stitches seaming two surfaces together is thinking at the pace of the body. Busy hands make a space that allows attention to wander. Productive wandering is how projects are made.

“The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.”

“If the history of medical genetics teaches us one lesson, it is to be wary of precisely such slips between biology and culture… Genes cannot tell us how to categorize or comprehend human diversity; environments can, cultures can, geographies can, histories can.”

How Wonderful
How wonderful to be understood,
to just sit here while some kind person
relieves you of the awful burden
of having to explain yourself, of having
to find other words to say what you meant,
or what you think you thought you meant,
and of the worse burden of finding no words,
of being struck dumb . . . because some bright person
has found just the right words for you-and you
have only to sit here and be grateful
for words so quiet so discerning they seem
not words but literate light, in which
your merely lucid blossoming grows lustrous.
How wonderful that is!
And how altogether wonderful it is
not to be understood, not at all, to, well,
just sit here while someone not unkindly
is saying those impossibly wrong things,
or quite possibly they’re the right things
if you are, which you’re not, that someone
-a difference, finally, so indifferent
it would be conceit not to let it pass,
unkindness, really, to spoil someone’s fun.
And so you don’t mind, you welcome the umbrage
of those high murmurings over your head,
having found, after all, you are grateful
-and you understand this, how wonderful!-
that you’ve been led to be quietly yourself,
like a root growing wise in darkness
under the light litter, the falling words.

GO D W H O GAVE US LIFE GAVE US
LIBERTY CAN THE LIBERTIES
O F A
NATION BE SECURE WHEN WE HAVE
REMOVED A CONVICTION THAT THESE
LIBERTIES ARE THE GIFT OF GOD?
IN DEED I TREMBLE FOR MY COUNTRY
WHEN I REFLECT THAT GOD IS JUST
THAT HIS JUSTICE CANNOT SLEEP FOR
EVER. COMMERCE BETWEEN MASTER
AND SLAVE IS DES POTIS M. NOTHING
IS MORE CERTAINLY WRITTEN IN THE
BOO K OF FATE THAN THAT THESE
PEOPLE ARE TO BE FREE. ESTABLISH
THE LAW FOR EDUCATING THE COMMON
PEOPLE THIS IT IS THE BUSINESS
OF THE STATE TO EFFECT AN D ON
A GENERAL PLAN.

The Garden
Helen Hoyt
Do not fear.
The garden is yours
And it is yours to gather the fruits
And every flower of every kind,
And to set the high wall about it
And the closed gates.
The gates of your wall no hand shall open,
No feet shall pass,
Through all the days until your return.
Do not fear.
But soon,
Soon let it be, your coming!
For the pathways will grow desolate waiting,
The flowers say, “Our loveliness has no eyes to behold it!”
The leaves murmur all day with longing,
All night the boughs of the trees sway themselves with longing…
O Master of the Garden,
O my sun and rain and dew,
Come quickly.

Imagine the world as a theater. The acts of the powerful and the official occupy center stage. The traditional versions of history, the conventional sources of news encourage us to fix our gaze on the stage. The limelights there are so bright they blind you to the shadowy spaces around you, make it hard to meet the gaze of the other people in the seats, to see the way out of the audience, into the aisles, backstage, outside, in the dark, where other powers are at work. A lot of the fate of the world is decided onstage, in the limelight, and the actors there will tell you that no other place matters.

There are times when it seems as though not only the future but the present is dark: few recognize what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming and global capital, but by dreams of freedom and of justice – and transformed by things we could not have dreamed of… We need to hope for the realization of our own dreams, but also to recognize a world that will remain wilder than our imaginations.

Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake,” . “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”I have been especially vigilant that my efforts should not be tainted with self-seeking vanity and, above all, that I served Thought and Truth in such a way as not to derive any secular and temporal advantages therefrom. Therefore I know, in all good conscience, that I have worked with true resignation.

I have conceived of myself as intent upon standing up for the Ordinary – in a bungled and demoralized age – and making it lovable and accessible to those of my fellow-creatures who are capable of realizing it, but who are led astray by the times and who chase after the Un-Common, the Extra-Ordinary. I have understood my task to be like that of a person who himself has become unhappy and therefore – if he loves human beings – particularly desires to help others who are capable of realizing happiness.

We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as [humans] is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks [we] take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.
Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. “ought to be a great kick at misery.” This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick.

“The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don’t know yet whether they will have any effect…”
The Highest is not to comprehend the Highest, but to do it, and note this well, including all the burdens it involves Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don’t know yet whether they will have any effect…”
The Highest is not to comprehend the Highest, but to do it, and note this well, including all the burdens it involves.”

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don’t know yet whether they will have any effect…”
The Highest is not to comprehend the Highest, but to do it, and note this well, including all the burdens it involves.”

“Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

I have always been a morning person, but now I find myself getting up between five and six a.m. every day. I feel like I am stealing daylight hours being awake so early, and even the largest metropolises are quiet at this hour. The stillness helps me to think. The first thing I do is make coffee and read the paper; feeling engaged and part of the world allows me to orient myself, it posits me in the here and now, it wakes me up. Then I head out on a hike or walk. I don’t bring my phone, but I bring a small notepad. I jot down ideas. Or I don’t. It’s like meditation: there are no wrong thoughts, just being. Then I come home and write.I have a physical aversion to wasting time. It helps to recognize self-doubt as such.

My greatest professional mistake has been complacency. At the time in question I was dissatisfied and depressed with my work and my professional progress in general. I just sank into a sort of lulling lament. I had to learn that complacency got me there, and the only thing to do was shut up and get it together. Also, a huge thing I had to learn was not to compare my career to the careers of others. Compare and despair. It’s helpful to take note of other people’s success and funnel it into motivation, using their successes as examples and benchmarks.
[…]
My self-worth is separate from my creative work and any response it may or may not elicit.Success is contextual and fleeting, so when things are harmonious, even for a moment, I try to savor it.The thing I’m most grateful to have missed out on was being signed by a major label… Having people near who won’t be yes-men can be your biggest asset.

My process in creativity has always been about doubt and worrying about the project, then exploration, then finding and making the work – I tend to take myself and the work apart a lot in the process before finally figuring it out.You can’t be what you can’t see.” Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is just shorthand for the thing being “not important enough” or “not a priority.” Busy is not a badge. You don’t find the time to make things, you make the time to do things. If I want to do something, I don’t let busy stand int he way. I make the time to do it.
confidence wasn’t as important as courage, and that the action to do something was much more critical to success than the idea that you feel confident about doing it. The notion that courage is more important than confidence has stayed with me ever since.I think success is a practice, sort of like love or happiness.I admire their fire and their empathy, their devotion to what they make and the consistent return to work, no matter the perceived success or failure. I admire these things because I believe them to be what is most important about creativity, and at my best, they are what I strive most to meet and inhabit

We know that rainbows, suns, moons, stars – all sorts of illuminations – are always in the firmament, but clouds can so lower and lour so that the viewer cannot see the light. So God put the rainbow in the clouds themselves – in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times – so that at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t, end there. At least that’s what I would choose to believe

Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives. We carry the past with us, so we must understand its legacy of deep darkness as well as strong light. We can see the future only in imagination, so we must continue to dream of freedom, peace, and justice for everyone. Meanwhile, we live in the present moment, with its tedium and terror, its fears and hopes, its incomprehensible losses and its transcendent joys. It is a moment in which it often feels as if nothing we do will make a difference, and yet so much depends on us.

It is well known and widely bemoaned that we have neglected our physical infrastructure – the roads, water supplies, and power grids on which our daily lives depend. Even more dangerous is our neglect of democracy’s infrastructure, and yet it is barely noticed and rarely discussed. The heart’s dynamics and the ways in which they are shaped lack the drama and the “visuals” to make the evening news, and restoring them is slow and daunting work. Now is the time to notice, and now is the time for the restoration to begin.
For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive … the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation.

We do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions.
[…]
The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good. We can help keep the experiment alive by repairing and maintaining democracy’s neglected infrastructure… the invisible dynamics of the human heart and the visible venues of our lives in which those dynamics are formed.

Rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears. When we share the sources of our pain with each other instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at “enemies,” we heave a chance to open our hearts and connect across some of our greatest divides

Hearing each other’s stories, which are often stories of heartbreak, can create an unexpected bond [between those with opposing political views]. When two people discover that parallel experiences led them to contrary conclusions, they are more likely to hold their differences respectfully, knowing that they have experienced similar forms of grief. The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.

We engage in creative tension-holding every day in every dimension of our lives, seeking and finding patches of common ground. We do it with our partners, our children, and our friends as we work to keep our relationships healthy and whole. We do it in the workplace … as we come together to solve practical problems. We’ve been doing it for ages in every academic field form the humanities to the sciences…
Human beings have a well-demonstrated capacity to hold the tension of differences in ways that lead to creative outcomes and advances. It is not an impossible dream to believe we can apply that capacity to politics. In fact, our capacity for creative tension-holding is what made the American experiment possible in the first place… America’s founders – despite the bigotry that limited their conception of who “We The People” were – had the genius to establish the first form of government in which differences, conflict, and tension were understood not as the enemies of a good social order but as the engines of a better social order.

“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”

The politics of our time is the “politics of the brokenhearted” – an expression that will not be found in the analytical vocabulary of political science or in the strategic rhetoric of political organizing. Instead, it is an expression for the language of human wholeness. There are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend and only heart-talk can convey. Among them are certain aspects of politics, by which I mean the essential and eternal human effort to craft the common life on which we all depend. This is the politics that Lincoln practiced as he led from a heart broken open to the whole of what it means to be human – simultaneously meeting the harsh demands of political reality and nurturing the seeds of new life.

Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge – intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know.

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.

Women had always made a significant contribution to the development of human civilization, but these were consistently ignored, denied, or trivialized.

In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things. They are the things that we should magnify.

It is creative because it takes the raw materials of fact and feeling and makes them into that which is neither fact nor feeling. Redemptive because it transforms pain, ugliness of life into joy, beauty. Sanctifying because it gives the transitory a relative form of meaning.”In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things. They are the things that we should magnify

Language
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.

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