Sunday, April 28, 2019
Saturday, April 27, 2019
From Rookwood, by William Harrison Ainsworth
"He neglected the bottle, which in a man who has been a hard drinker all his life, is a bad sign."
From Chapter VIII, An Irish Adventurer
"He neglected the bottle, which in a man who has been a hard drinker all his life, is a bad sign."
From Chapter VIII, An Irish Adventurer
Friday, April 26, 2019
From Amelia, by Henry Fielding
"These were several matters of which we thought necessary our reader should be informed; for, besides that it conduces greatly to the perfect understanding of all history, there is no exercise of the mind of a sensible reader more pleasant than the tracing the several small and almost imperceptible links in every chain of events by which all the great actions of the world are produced."
From Book XII, Chapter 1
Thursday, April 25, 2019
"Was Ever a man so crossed as I am? everything conspires to fret me."
From The School for Scandal, Sir Peter Teazle, Act II, Scene 1
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
"It was easy for someone to stay young if he refused to learn, refused to adapt to his lot in life, and refused to fight to change his circumstances in accordance with his will."
From Part III, The Cross, Chapter One
Monday, April 22, 2019
"There was really something exceedingly human -- if not pathetic -- in his being thus relieved by a clearly worded reproof."
From Chapter XXVII, When Waters Engulf Us We Reach for a Star
Sunday, April 21, 2019
"Only occasionally do I feel the touch of that other life, the one in the shadows where I do not choose to live."
From Chapter 4, The Rock
Saturday, April 20, 2019
From The Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz, translated by Celina Wieniewska
"The Street of Crocodiles was a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption. Obviously, we were unable to afford anything better than a paper imitation, a montage of illustrations cut out from last year's moldering newspapers."
From The Street of Crocodiles
Friday, April 19, 2019
"Even though he could never read a line of my writings, he believed in them with boisterous optimism, and I knew he thought me capable of exactly that which would be my innermost joy to achieve."
From To Adelheid Franziska von Der Marwitz, January 14, 1919
Thursday, April 18, 2019
"Zeno's paradox illustrates something else, that logic does not necessarily describe reality, and that it is not anticipation but journeying that does often bring us to a destination."
From Keeping Pace with the Tortoise
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
From My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead
ELIOT AND LEWES
"My favorite image of Eliot and Lewes is provided by a neighbor who used to see them out walking Pug, and reported, Mrs. Cadwallader-like, 'they were both very unattractive people to look upon, and they used to wander about the neighborhood, the biggest pair of frights that ever was, followed by a shaggy little dog who could do tricks.' The censorious glimpse from behind the net curtain is a peculiarly English phenomenon, and I derive delicious pleasure from the two Georges' carelessness about the judgement delivered by smaller minds and smaller hearts than their own."
From Chapter 6, The Widow and the Wife
Monday, April 15, 2019
Sunday, April 14, 2019
“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”
-- John Milton, Areopagitica
One of the primary fallacies of American optimism is that once established, progress is immutable. Nope. Retrogression is as natural to human endeavors as sweat. Think lapsed gym memberships, failed diets, and recurrent Republican majorities.
I do one social media account for the bookstore where I work. Just the one. Tumblr. Took it on years ago and made it all about books, natch. Got it up to more than 7000 followers which ain't bad for a twice daily visual blog featuring book covers, poetry, and quotation. Those aren't porn numbers of course, but then porn on Tumblr is done.
According to news reports the ban on "adult content" was the result of threats by Apple to delete the Tumblr app on it's new phones, as Tumblr had become so closely associated with porn. December 17th, 2018 the porn sites all went away, mostly.
Personally, I was a fan, not of everything mind, but a fan. Tumblr became a platform for the democratization of sex online; it was free, anyone could post content, and while I never participated directly, I enjoyed the show. Not easy to remember now, but by the nineties gay porn had become as rigidly defined as Kabuki. All the men had the same muscles, haircuts, and routines. It all, or nearly all looked like the dance floor of Rage in West Hollywood. It was expensive and boring and numbingly conformist. Then the Internet happened and suddenly it was a Brave New World of dudes and daddies and personal web-cams. Later still, platforms for shared content -- like Tumblr --drained a good deal of the money out of the business and anybody who wanted to could be a "content provider." That part was exciting. Variety reigned. Open to all comers. Dance like only those that wanted to were watching.
Now it seems sex has been reclaimed by Capitalism. Alas.
Set that aside.
New protocols went into place on Tumblr. Content was subject to review for "adult content". Potentially pornographic posts were flagged, presumably by some new algorithm, and subject to review by... someone?
After review by some anonymous human, Tumblr decided that earlier posts on the bookstore's Tumblr did not meet their new community standards. Dozens of existing posts were flagged. These were appealed. After review, posts featuring books by Lidia Yuknavitch, Herve Guibert, Tom Bianchi, Robert Mapplethorpe, Samuel R. Delany, and Edmund White do not meet their new community guidelines. Those posts have been made permanently private. “This decision cannot be appealed.”
Nipples seam to be a problem: male nipples, female nipples, nipples on sculptures older than the American Republic, all nipples are now obscene. Nudity of nearly any description is pornographic now. Shirtless men? Porn. Gay content seems a particular problem, and women's bodies in anything like a natural state? Porn. Recently, two book covers featuring skeletons and or chest x-rays were flagged. And those were far from the weirdest bans. Dinosaurs?! Appealed and restored. No lie. Dinosaurs.
Presumably this all makes sense to a machine.
What I'm completely preoccupied by now is who the Hell are these anonymous people handling the content appeals? Is there really someone sitting at a computer screen deciding a pulp cover from the fifties is porn now? What's the guy's name who gets to decide that every photograph ever taken by Tom Bianchi or Robert Mapplethorpe is porn, or are their names on a list of banned artists? Where are these new censors? Are they in a room somewhere in Silicon Valley or Mumbai, hunting nipples? Is this all they do all day? Do they have other functions? Do Tumblr employees have shifts just nipple reviewing, or do they do this on their lunch-breaks? Are there any women doing this work? Is it a sub-contract? Is the new community standard based on any community actually extant, or is this all just math and red flags?
Tumblr is not alone in this. Twitter is having a belated identity crisis. Friends of mine have been sent to "Facebook jail" over similar content issues, mostly involving nudity and art. (Naked is bad, even in a drawing.) Hate speech, racism, white supremacy, Nazis, and pseudo-science have all, quite rightly, been in the news as newly problematic -- again -- for all the big platforms. The one thing everybody: movies, TV, social media, seems to agree on? Dick. Dick is bad.
And nipples maybe.
"Because there is something we are sensitive to it is profound intuitions, irrational things; we really are, even if our intellect often goes on the defensive and forbids them, denies us access to them."
From Fifth Class, Musicality and Humor in Literature
Saturday, April 13, 2019
At fifty-five, my pockets are weighted like casino cups in the days of nickel-slots. Did not see that coming.
When I was little, all the men I knew carried change in their pockets. A man met another man, they'd shake hands, say hello, ask after family, and then stand there, hands in their pockets. On the street or in the yard, church on Sunday or at an auction, they'd stand, while their wives talked. They'd watch the kids play, or the dogs, admire a passing car. They'd smoke, most of them. Spit. Might tell a joke. To my child's notice they would all, sooner or later, shake the change in their pockets. (Maybe it was a child's eye-level thing.) My father did this, all his life. As a small child, I did not like that sound when my father made it. Children are greedy. I was anyway. Those coins I could hear but not see, that was money I did not have, money exactly as I understood it at the time: quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, -- maybe even a Kennedy half-dollar -- and I was not spending what I did not have. It was maddening to my six year old self, hearing those coins rattle. The treasure should have been mine. There were Pixy Stix and Donald Duck comics somewhere in the world calling my name.
One did not ask men for money at that age, at that time. Mothers, and grandmothers particularly you could ask. If they had it to give, women gave kids money. Money came from change-purses that all had the same overlapping clasp, or from a twisted handkerchief that was conjured from some mysterious, powdery corner 'round about a lady's shoulder. Grandmothers were easy. Mothers, in public, could be embarrassed or worn down. But fathers, my father? Do not ask, in public. In private, yes, but not before witnesses.
"What for?" or "Just what is it you think you need?" or "Anybody'd think we didn't feed you."
(Lord. Make Mum ask him.)
The irony was that the men all seemed to me much richer than their wives. What a weight of money men had in their pockets then! If Scrooge McDuck had had pants, and those pants had had pockets, the sound could not have been more tormenting.
Now it's my jeans, my pockets, my coin, my jangle.
When I was a young fairy, I did not carry change, or a wallet, as my jeans were intentionally tight. Don't ruin "the line," baby. Put the money in my shoe, or an inside pocket of a bomber-jacket -- never anywhere that would distract or detract from what were, all-too-briefly, the clean lines and tight curves of my late teens and early twenties. And come summer? Honey, my cut-offs were sliced so high the pockets had to go altogether. Yeah, boy. Couldn't tell me nothin'. I looked good.
Now I'm fatter at fifty-five than my father was at eighty, and older frankly than I once thought I'd ever live to be. My pockets are full of pennies and keys and general whatnot. How did that happen? I put my hands in my pockets now when it ain't even cold. When I'm " back home", I find myself again in the company of men with too little to say, myself included. I rattle the change in my pockets. Irritates me when I do this. Some six year old version of myself wakes up within me and wants to spend that money on... something. Do they still make Abba Zaba? How much is a root beer barrel? I like that there's money in my billfold now, when there is. I like the lump of that wallet against my ass when I pull up a chair. Even if it's more punch-cards than Platinum Visas, I like a little weight in that wallet. I've arrived. But there's no comfort in the coins in my pocket, strangely, only the untapped potential for things I don't need and ought not to have. That hasn't changed, the things I shouldn't want, only grown worse now all my adult-teeth are all in and the money's my own.
In my house we put the loose change in a bowl until it overflows and then, when we remember, that money gets turned into groceries, real ones, not candy -- mostly.
My father put quarters in a water jug. My mother did too. The one time it was full, if I'm remembering right, they took a vacation. Went to listen to country and western music somewhere I think. It took a long time to fill that big jug. My parents never got to travel as far or as often as they'd have liked.
Money means something different to people that were born to people without enough of it. When I was growing up, we never seemed to do without. I learned later that my parents had done, that they did do, for us. (First time I ever met a man who'd never had to worry about money I remember my shock when he didn't put so much as a dollar in a red kettle as we passed as Santa on the street. How did one not do that? Now I have my reasons, but then I did not understand. "There is always more misery in the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher." -- as Victor Hugo wrote that lesson out.)
Now my father's died, my mother's still finding coins among his things. Dad had so many things, we've only discovered since he died: new socks he never wore, and coats enough to fill the donation corner at the food bank, broken watches and brass tie-clips he hadn't used in thirty years for the ties he never wore. Ties by the dozen, come to that. And coins. My mother found some more and mixed them with the rest before my brother picked them out. Not quarters it seems but silver dollars. Might be worth something. Dollar apiece anyway.
When someone dies, there are just so many other things they leave behind besides us.
Boxes and boxes.
I wonder what future generations will make of our boxes of old photographs? What will they find at the back of closets, behind the shoes and under the hooks for old belts? In a digital age, will there still be photo-albums somewhere? Mine are already sticky with age; the "self-adhering" pages meant to save us the trouble of paste now self-adhered into inseparable blocks of yellow plastic. My father's pictures, along with his mother's and his mother-in-law's, his aunts' and others', we found heaped in boxes and albums with wooden covers and black, paper pages. There were bunches of tiny flip-books and little square "albums" in yellow cardboard covers that came from the drugstores that developed the film. I didn't know half the people in those pictures. My older brother knows who most of those people were because he's studied the matter. Now he may be the only one who remembers.
We forget the woman third from the left. We forget the name of the dog, and where they were when the pictures were taken, who gave us that birthday gift, what became of that hat.
I like particularly the pictures of my father, as a boy, with horses. He seems happiest in those pictures. His father blacksmithed, among other things to feed his family in the Depression. There were always horses and ponies then, besides the coon-dogs and beagles and strays. Who remembers them now? My brother knows the names of the horses, anyway, some of the dogs, too. But then my brother's conversation with our father went on longer and ran deeper than mine. Antagonists when we were young, they became friends. My father and I? We learned to like each other well enough. Loved each other dearly, always, but we were never friends, not like that.
There's a moment in the development of a photograph, a moment described somewhere in Sebold's Austerlitz as "the moment when the shadows of reality, so to speak, emerge out of nothing on the exposed paper..." I remember witnessing that moment in a friend's darkroom. That was a thrilling thing to see; life rising through the black. (Hate to think the day may come when no one will see that happen.) In a humbler example, I remember shaking Polaroids until the pictures came out of the pea-soup green; a Christmas tree seen first by the lights, a face, a dog, my mother, me. Thrilling and usually a little disappointing. We none of us were much at photography.
I saw the obverse of that magic in those picture boxes; Polaroids faded to a weird and uniform green, photographs gone gray with age, even tintypes scratched and faded to ghosts. Sobering to think how brief the life of physical memories may be.
The evidence of our past is in us, but that's not the best way to get at it, is it? The older we get, or maybe the busier we are, the more we require clues: a song, biscuit dough under our fingernails, the way hay smells in old bales, jewelry in a box.
I'm sure there must be science somewhere to explain this. (Isn't smell supposed to the surest way to remember? Taste? Clever Monsieur Proust.)
I jingle the coins in my pocket and remember the men I knew as a child.
But then, I didn't know them very well.
The men I knew then didn't play cards. Not that I remember. (Not that I do now, but I have, badly.) My father didn't drink, but he certainly knew men who did. Didn't smoke either, but most of them seemed to then. They all worked. They raced dogs. They lent things and borrowed them; tools and machines and labor. They stood still more than we seem to now.
Thinking about that, the sound of that.
Might be a fair, or a parade, or the end of something, like music or church. Not friends so much together as just men. (Women did this too but that was different then, more to do with a sense of occasion and work, since women did everything that made nearly anything happen that did, from meals to God and politics, though weirdly men seemed to imagine themselves very much in charge. Community, event, family, women made all that.) One man would be stood there and then another and another until they were men, of no particular purpose, watching, talking or not, looking at nothing in particular but not much at each other. Weather. The day. The price of gasoline. Then not a damned thing. They'd rattle their keys, jingle the change in their pockets, take off a hat and wipe the sweat from their heads with a handkerchief. (They blew their noses without, by the way, a trick I never mastered.) Someone might clear his throat, but not as a prelude to speech, spit. (Funny how the habit of that seems to survive in males today who never inhaled coal-smoke or asbestos, or took a pinch of snuff in their lives. Why do they still spit so much?)
They would none of them appreciate having that scene described as a meditation But I think now it might as well have been. Prayer was for funerals, preachers, and foxholes. The men I knew then didn't practice. They'd bow their heads, but only when told to. No. The change in their pockets was as close as they came, most of them, to telling beads. To praise a day they would stand still and look at it.
They didn't carry guns, by the way, not then, unless to trade them, or hunt, or to march in a parade. No one in their right mind ever brought a pistol to a picnic or carried a riffle into the grocery store. That kind of masculine and political insecurity is new, obscene, and no more American than public nudity or Molotov cocktails.
But then I never knew what most of those men thought when they were stood there. Fundamentally those men were a mystery to me as a child and would probably be still if any of them still stood. Who knows what dark and dire things they might have believed in? May be why I prefer to remember their silence.
There's an obvious lesson in that silence too, one I still need to learn.
My silence is maybe not so good as theirs, not so full, or knowing, or angry, or empty. Not better than theirs, surely, but different in kind. Mine is more indoors than out, lamp-lit rather than gloaming. Mine tends to be over books and alone. I like it fine, mostly.
Now and again I do find myself standing, in company and out, with my hands in my pockets. Spring can be cold in Seattle. Change in my pocket I did not remember or anticipate, but there it is.
Wish I'd learned how to spit.
"I spent a lot of time gazing into bookstore windows. I remember that once I stood before the window of a former Gebethner bookstore (I didn't know what the name was at the time), where books and records were on display. A couple from the provinces, an old man with the face of a squire and his wife, stopped next to me. The squire pointed to a record with Brahms' Fourth Symphony. That is very difficult music, he said to his wife.
I was transported into raptures: I was not alone in my wanderings."
Friday, April 12, 2019
"You're this middle-aged failure with this middle-aged spirit, this balding, potbelly heart. Its pants turn down over its belt. Things have gone haywire."
From My Middle Age
Thursday, April 11, 2019
"I ordered a cavalcade of oysters. Most of them had been cut the way they were suppsed to be, and they slipped down as easily as water, like the ocean, like nothing at all, but one fought me: anchored to its shell, a stubborn hinge of flesh."
From Eight Bites
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
From The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges
TO WHAT SERVES MORTAL BEAUTY?
To what serves mortal beauty ' —dangerous; does set danc-
ing blood—the O-seal-that-so ' feature, flung prouder form
Than Purcell tune lets tread to? ' See: it does this: keeps warm
Men’s wits to the things that are; ' what good means—where a glance
Master more may than gaze, ' gaze out of countenance.
Those lovely lads once, wet-fresh ' windfalls of war’s storm,
How then should Gregory, a father, ' have gleanèd else from swarm-
ed Rome? But God to a nation ' dealt that day’s dear chance.
To man, that needs would worship ' block or barren stone,
Our law says: Love what are ' love’s worthiest, were all known;
World’s loveliest—men’s selves. Self ' flashes off frame and face.
What do then? how meet beauty? ' Merely meet it; own,
Home at heart, heaven’s sweet gift; ' then leave, let that alone.
Yea, wish that though, wish all, ' God’s better beauty, grace.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
From Essays on Nature and Culture, by Hamilton Wright Mabie
"The hand that holds a tool is part of an organism which constantly affects it and upon which it as constantly reacts. As that hand is held to its task, the eye, the will, the nature of the man behind it are all involved in its work."
From The Prophecy of Nature
Monday, April 8, 2019
"It was Vanessa. She managed to lean right across Bill, tear the keys out of the ignition and throw them out the window of the car and clear over the parapet of the Westway, as the Volvo was ploughing along it at seventy. When they came to a halt, Vanessa threw herself out as well. No one likes to be made a fool of."
From Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo: A Manual, 3. Starting and Driving
Sunday, April 7, 2019
"It is so pleasant a sensation to occupy yourself with something you can only half do that you should never reproach the dilettante if he engages in an art he will never learn or blame the artist if he feels inclined to go beyond the boundaries of his art into a neighborouring field."
From Chapter 3
Saturday, April 6, 2019
From Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
"It had nothing to do with France itself, with wearing hats or writing tortured letters from a sidewalk cafe. I didn't care where Hemingway drank or Alice B. Toklas had he mustache trimmed. What I found appealing in life abroad was the inevitable sense of helplessness it would inspire."
From See You Again Yesterday
Friday, April 5, 2019
From Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, by Carlo Rovelli
"In 1953, a primary schoolchild writes to Albert Einstein: 'Our class is studying the universe. I am interested in space, I would like to thank you for all you have done so that we might understand it.'
I feel the same way."
From Chapter 3, Albert
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
From A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
"He was also very boastful and started to make a very sneery litso at us all and a loud proud goloss. He made out that he was the real horrorshow prestoopnick in the whole zoo, going on that he'd done this and done the other and killed ten rozzes with one crack of his rooker and all that cal. But nobody was very impressed, O my brothers."
From Chapter 2