Feeling good

After my last post, and especially at the dawn of a new a year, it seems fitting to hit the reset button and start at a different starting point.

Musings to come in a subsequent post; for now, a three-part pairing of music, prose, and photography.

Music courtesy of Nina Simone, singing “Feeling Good.”

Prose courtesy of Herman Hesse, writing about trees.
(My favorite excerpts in bold)

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them,whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

And see here for more on Hesse and trees and notes on wandering and belonging.

Photography courtesy of yours truly, taken during yesterday’s mid-afternoon walk.

20140116_153005Happy New Year!

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Brighton beach memoirs

Ventured out to Brighton today to gather with some colleagues; this was the view from our Brighton colleague’s flat:

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What must be the sensation of looking out and seeing the tide ebb and flow ad infinitum just steps away?

Upon my return back to micro-flat, I happened upon a reading list that somehow felt apropos — not only of the conversations I’d spent the day having, but of the academic culture here in the UK. It’s called “Best Summer Books And Their Corresponding Drinks” (special shoutout to E, who will also appreciate the tenor of this compilation).

And so another day has passed. My erratic sleep/insomnia remains. What lies ahead? A bit of work, a handful of meetings and conferencing, and, if weather and schedule cooperate, a bit of the local tennis scene.

Summer agenda

Since last September, the trials and tribulations of institutional academic life have applied ample psychic weight to my daily consciousness and have indeed dominated my waking (and sleeping) hours. But the spring semester has ended and June is nearly here — June… June! when I have to be finished with the last of the lingering todos on a very long and very overdue list of things I owe to other people. So, what is on the agenda for June, July, and August? In short, as little of a schedule as possible and a wish list of experiences:

  1. Try the creations at each of the Top 10 Falafel Spots in NYC (according to cityeats) — this is basically just an excuse to return, again, to Taim, which is well worth the trek down to the West Village.
  2. Go to the movies… a lot… and watch, among others:
    The Way, Way Back 
  3. Summer tv viewing: including “The Yard” (free on Hulu), “Arrested Development,” and (it might finally be time for a re-viewing of) all five seasons of “The Wire.”
  4. Taste test of lemon ricotta pancakes across the city.
  5. Thanks to E, I am now hooked on “Sherlock” — it’s the kind of show that begs a second and third viewing before the first has finished. So the two seasons’ worth will keep me occupied for at least a little while, especially as I play one of my favorite tv watching games: Guess where they are (the show is filmed in London, thus making the viewing and the gaming especially satisfactory.) And besides, who wouldn’t watch a show whose titular character is played by an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, who could very realistically be the love child of Fred MacMurray, circa “Double Indemnity” and Dennis Quaid, circa pretty much any time.
  6. Embody and communicate a love of anything as much as Bobby McFerrin does here:

    or as Leonard Bernstein does here:
  7. Walk and walk and walk with no destination in mind, including in and out of the corners of Philadelphia, through the Sheffield Peak District, and along the Thames for as long as my legs will lead me.
  8. A photo a day for the summer (or as close to it as I can come). Here’s one I took in Central Park a couple of weeks ago:

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    The not to secret Cherry Blossom walk near the Reservoir
  9. And my real summer reading list
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Witness by Karen Hesse
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Gladly willing to accept any and all company who want to go along for the ride.

A week when Sebald found me

One evening in December T showed me a manuscript copy of A place in the country, a collection of Sebald’s essays that was originally published in German nearly two decades ago. This spring, the English translation was published (and available May 2nd) and I can finally get my hands on Sebald’s take on Rousseau and others whom, it is said repeatedly, he brings “lovingly to life.”

This past week, articles in the key of Sebald found their way again and again into my virtual inboxes — either via email or twitter feed.

A link to the first — Out of the Shadows — was emailed to me by a friend and is written by Uwe Schütte, a former student of Sebald’s. One line in particular stood out to me and suggests to me something about why the sensibility of this writer strikes such a chord with me.

“I never liked doing things systematically,” Sebald declared in the 1990s. “Not even my PhD research was done systematically. It was always done in a random, haphazard fashion. And the more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way, ie, in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field.”

I was alerted to a second piece by a friend via twitter who I turned onto Sebald’s works and whose father, it turns out, had been an avid reader of the author in the years before his death: WG Sebald: Reveries of a solitary walker. Four writers (James Wood, Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Robert Macfarlane) reflect on the significance of Sebald for them and their work. Macfarlane gets it just right when he says:

Sebald’s seemingly passive prose was in fact – to borrow Marianne Moore’s memorable phrase – “diction galvanised against inertia”

At the bottom of this piece was a link to a third piece — the pièce de résistance, as it turned out — penned by Sebald, himself. And for just the smallest of split seconds the truth seemed like it might be a beautifully crafted nightmare… The Guardian had printed an excerpt from Sebald’s newly published collection and called the piece: A Place in the Country by WG Sebald – extract. And from the first words, I heard his voice* begin to spin a tale.

At the end of September 1965, having moved to the French-speaking part of Switzerland to continue my studies, a few days before the beginning of the semester I took a trip to the nearby Seeland, where, starting from Ins, I climbed up the so-called Schattenrain.

The long sentences stretch out before the reader like a guide, comforting without revealing too much truth at once. The information is meted out in metaphor, location, and imagery that provides necessary details while resisting the trap of over description. Sometimes called wandering, other times called poetic, and often evoking the feeling of traveling from one where to another, these sentences beckon, are invitational and unfolding, are an apt form of the pedagogical (if the reader will let them be so).

I thought immediately of another excerpt, this time from Emerson’s essay “Experience” in which he writes:

Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus. … We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them. It depends on the mood of the man, whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem. There are always sunsets, and there is always genius; but only a few hours so serene that we can relish nature or criticism.

I often read Sebald as both composer and conductor, orchestrating the reading experience as a transportive one in which a casual glance at a lamp or a stone carving is an instance license to travel through time and space and to feel both local and global resonance at once. Nothing is unconnected everything, which is not to say that everything is necessary connected; rather, he seems to be writing with the purpose to move the reader to consider each words as tethered to a portal of further inquiry. He is an artful master of stringing beads, in the Emersonian sense, and describing while also delivering experience. And yet, Sebald strikes me as one who is free from the trappings of the current academic epidemic of writing as self aggrandizement; his purpose seems to be driven by a different purpose, while maintaining a palpable gentleness and humility.

In the excerpt reprinted by The Guardian, Sebald has written about Rousseau and his affection for the monastic Île St. Pierre in Switzerland. Here, he ponders the ways that returning to the island effected Rousseau’s writing:

Compared with these dark days, the Île Saint-Pierre must truly have appeared to Rousseau, when he arrived there on 9 September, as a paradise in miniature in which he might believe he could collect himself in a stillness, as he writes at the beginning of the “Fifth Walk”, interrupted only by the cry of the eagle, the song of an occasional bird, and the rushing of the mountain streams.

And now, I must order my copy of his volume, which I glimpsed in hard copy during a weekend sojourn with a friend — images, photographs, drawings jumped out from a very abbreviated flip-through. It promises to be as engaging and moving a read as the rest of Sebald’s oeuvre.

*To hear Sebald in his own voice, you can listen to him being interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on the radio program Bookworm, transmitted a few days before his death.

this world in which we live

Rather than attempt any written response to the events and aftermath unfolding from the dark day in Connecticut, I’m choosing instead to share a few new finds on the order of the art in children’s books and the worlds they open up — it is where I’m choosing to dwell for a spell.

More information here: Little Big Books: What Makes Great Children’s Picture Book Illustration
including these illustrations

 

and for those of us who want to know more: A Brief History of Children’s Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling

all links here courtesy of BrainPickings – follow: @brainpicker

Forgetting and remembering

Another literary stumble upon this week as I walked, bleary-eyed (the result of more than a fortnight of evenings dissolving into mornings with little sleep, whilst gestating an edited volume into submittable form — 98% there — and succumbing, unwittingly, to a cold virus that is making the rounds) into Book Culture hoping for…. no, not hoping; I entered assumption-free, just seeking. And I was not disappointed. In addition to the Bishop correspondence collection, I found a book comprised of little notes and scribbles that Roland Barthes had made, apparently on a series of index cards, for two years following the death of his mother.

This sentiment of loss stood out in particular.

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From: Mourning Diary: October 26, 1977-September 15, 1979 – Roland Barthes