past

When I Feel At Home

When I Feel At Home

"When I feel at home (or when someone else truly makes me feel at home), I feel comfortable, supported, safe, and relaxed, like I don’t need anything. At those times, my past ceases to be a neon marquee of regrets, and my future is no longer an unending to-do list, bullet-pointed by unrealistic expectations. Feeling at home is the feeling that I can just be myself."

~ Ethan Nichtern

Watching the Clock

Watching the Clock

"As conscious human beings, we know we die, and we therefore know our clock ends on, some level. So time just seems foundational. And I think a lot of the gymnastics that we do as human beings has to do with our relationship to the clock, or lack of a relationship to the clock. We squander time until it’s too late, et cetera. I love looking at the building blocks, the raw material, the irreducibles."

~ B.J. Miller

A Vital Part of Aliveness

A Vital Part of Aliveness

"One of the beautiful things about the early twilight at this time of year, as it fades into the dark of the long nights, is that you can just surrender yourself to it. Allow the twilight to remind you that it is a time of consideration and renewal. Know full well that in this world the darkness and the light are one. There is no new dawn without the night; their seeming separateness disguises a unity that reflects the unity of life, an unfathomable dance of opposites. This paradox is the very essence of what it is to be alive—joy and pain, sickness and health, light and dark, wonder and fear."

~ Phillip Moffitt

Fiction Rules Our Lives

Mark Slouka discussing "Brewster" on KCRW's Bookworm, September 12, 2013: 

I think that fiction does contain certain kinds of truth that are apartmaybe beyond what we've actually lived. I actually think that anything that has slipped into the pastany moment that has actually passed -- has entered the domain of fiction.

If you tell me what you did this morning, you know, after breakfast, it will creat a kind of a fiction. You'll leave certain things out, you'll stress other things you didn't think were more interesting. So I think fiction sort of rules our lives on every level.

For me, it's a matter of looking at how storytellingfictionsort of bleeds into our reality all the time. I mean, that's kind of where I live as a writer.  

Slouka, M. (2013). Brewster: A novel. [Amazon, library

Versions of the Past

Excerpt from "How Memoirists Mold the Truth," by André Aciman, The New York Times, April 6, 2013:

There is no past; there are just versions of the past. Proving one version true settles absolutely nothing, because proving another is equally possible. If I were to rewrite the scene one more time, this new version would overwrite the previous ones and, in time, become just another version among many.

Words radiate something that is more luminous, more credible and more durable than real facts, because under their stewardship, it is not truth we’re after; what we want instead is something that was always there but that we weren’t seeing and are only now, with the genius of retrospection, finally seeing as it should have occurred and might as well have occurred and, better yet, is still likely to occur. In writing, the difference between the no more and the not yet is totally negligible.

We can have many pasts, just as we can have several identities at the same time, or be in two places in our mind without actually being in either. For every life we live, there are at least eight others we’ve gotten close to but may never know. Maybe there is no true life or false life, no remembered or imagined itinerary, no projected or revisited moments, no worthy or wasted days, just as there is no such thing as mask or face, truth or lie, right or wrong answers. Can something be and not be at the same time?

Read more...

A Philosophy of the Present

From “In Search of the Present,” by Octavio Paz (translated by Anthony Stanton), Nobel Lecture, October 8, 1990:

Reflecting on the now does not imply relinquishing the future or forgetting the past: the present is the meeting place for the three directions of time. Neither can it be confused with facile hedonism. The tree of pleasure does not grow in the past or in  the future but at this very moment. Yet death is also a fruit of The death mask of Sir Isaac Newton.the present. It cannot be rejected, for it is part of life. Living well implies dying well. We have to learn how to look death in the face. The present is alternatively luminous and somber, like a sphere that unites the two halves of action and contemplation. Thus, just as we have had philosophies of the past and of the future, of eternity and of the void, tomorrow we shall have a philosophy of the present. The poetic experience could be one of its foundations. What do we know about the present? Nothing or almost nothing. Yet the poets do know one thing: the present is the source of presences.

In this pilgrimage in search of modernity I lost my way at many points only to find myself again. I returned to the source and discovered that modernity is not outside but within us. It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn. It speaks in Nahuatl, draws Chinese ideograms from the 9th century, and appears on the television screen. This intact present, recently unearthed, shakes off the dust of centuries, smiles and suddenly starts to fly, disappearing Venus of Willendorf through the window. A simultaneous plurality of time and presence: modernity breaks with the immediate past only to recover an age-old past and transform a tiny fertility figure from the Neolithic into our contemporary. We pursue modernity in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence.

[Thanks, Whiskey River!]

Planned Thrills

Excerpt from Timeline by Michael Crichton:

In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused.

But where will this mania for entertainment end? What will people do when they get tired of television? When they get tired of movies? We already know the answer — they go into participatory activities: sports, theme parks, amusement rides, roller coasters. Structured fun, planned thrills. And what will they tire of theme parks and planned thrills? Sooner or later, the artifice becomes too noticeable. They begin to realize that an amusement park is really a kind of jail in which you pay to be an inmate.

"natural looking artificial flowers and plants" This artifice will drive them to seek authenticity. Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century. And what is authentic? Anything that is not devised and structured to make a profit. Anything that is not controlled by corporations. Anything that exists for its own sake, that assumes its own shape. But of course, nothing in the modern world is allowed to assume its own shape. The modern world is the corporate equivalent of a formal garden, where everything is planted and arranged for effect. Where nothing is untouched, where nothing is authentic.

Where then will people turn for the rare and desirable experience of authenticity? They will turn to the past.

*     *     *     *     *

See also: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine

Body, Remember...

Bedroom Window. October 2010

Σώμα, θυμήσου όχι μόνο το πόσο αγαπήθηκες,
όχι μονάχα τα κρεββάτια όπου πλάγιασες,
αλλά κ’ εκείνες τες επιθυμίες που για σένα
γυάλιζαν μες στα μάτια φανερά,
κ’ ετρέμανε μες στην φωνή —  και κάποιο
τυχαίον εμπόδιο τες ματαίωσε.
Τώρα που είναι όλα πια μέσα στο παρελθόν,
μοιάζει σχεδόν και στες επιθυμίες
εκείνες σαν να δόθηκες — πώς γυάλιζαν,
θυμήσου, μες στα μάτια που σε κύτταζαν·
πώς έτρεμαν μες στην φωνή, για σε, θυμήσου, σώμα.

Bedroom. October 2009

Body, remember not just how much you were loved,
not simply those beds on which you have lain,
but also the desire for you that shone
plainly in the eyes that gazed at you,
and quavered in the voice for you, though
by some chance obstacle was finally forestalled.
Now that everything is finally in the past,
it seems as though you did yield to those desires —
how they shone, remember, in the eyes that gazed at you,
how they quavered in the voice for you — body, remember.

C. P. Cavafy, from Collected Poems: Bilingual Edition. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

[Thanks, Jonathan Carroll!]

We’ve Seen it All Before

Excerpt from the introduction of Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer:

Taking Our Places Another characteristic of maturity — one that any of us would mention — is experience. A grown-up is someone who is experienced and, through having lived long enough to have seen many things, has a point of view and a measure of savvy about how life works. There is certainly no substitute for the experience that accumulates as the years go by, but it is also possible to be alive for a long time and not really experience our living, not really see our life. The human capacity for self-deception and blindness runs deep. We may be alive, but we have not necessarily lived. If we accumulate experiences without really engaging with them, then our experience tends to make us stodgy and boring. As we catalog and define our experiences, possessing them without ever really being possessed by them, we begin to expect that new situations will just be repetitions of old ones. Soon we feel as if we’ve seen it all before. We know what to expect. Our point of view gradually becomes a set of blinders rather than a searching flashlight.

But if we pay close and open attention to our experiences, life’s larger patterns begin to come into view. We see that all things are transitory and unique. Nothing repeats. We understand that, though always instructive, the past can never tell us what the future will be. Within the larger pattern that experience reveals, there are endless variations. Insofar as we see this, our experience increases our wonder at and appreciation of all that happens. With little life experience, we might be naively excited by the novelty of a person we meet or an event that occurs. But when we truly appreciate our experience, we respond to that newness with a deeper understanding of its meaning and wonder as we relate it to what we have seen before. Far from dampening our sense of wonder, real experience refreshes and mellows it.

A Real Fortune-Teller Knows

Excerpt from Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler:

“I mean, your left hand is your whole entire past! I wonder if one of my books deals with this.”

“If it’s my past, why do we care?” Liam asked. “We just want to know about my future?

“Oh, you can’t read one without the other,” Esther Jo told him. “They’re intermingled. They bounce off of each other. That’s what the amateurs fail to understand.”

She released his hands with a dismissive little pat that gave Liam a sense of rejection, absurdly enough.

“Let’s see if I can explain this,” she said. “You know how farmers can predict what kind of winter they’ll have by looking at the acorns and berries? Those acorns and berries are the way they are because of what has gone before — how much rainfall there’s been and et cetera, et cetera. A whole lot depends on the weather that’s already happened. And the farmers know that.”

She gave him a quick, self-confirming nod.

“We, just the same way, a real fortune-teller — and I’m not one to brag, but I am a real fortune-teller; I’ve just always had the gift, somehow — a real fortune-teller knows that your future depends on your past. It keeps shifting about; it’s not carved in stone. It keeps bouncing off whatever happened earlier. So, no, I can’t do a thing without seeing what’s in your left palm.”

A Perpetual Possibility

The first lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets:

eliotTime present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.