A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘The Nervous Breakdown’

Bookends

In Books, Creativity, Literature, Memoir, Writers, Writing on May 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is a repost. I’m out of the country. As this piece is “published,” I will have touched down in Kathmandu, day one of twenty-two days away from home. That’s a long time.

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November 14, 1851, one-hundred fifty-nine years ago today Moby Dick was published. The Reader’s Almanac, “The official blog of The Library of America“,tells the story of Melville inviting Nathaniel Hawthorn, his reclusive neighbor to a celebratory dinner party as Moby Dick is came off the press. The article quotes a letter from a local Lenox resident:

Not very long ago the author of The Scarlet Letter and the author of Typee having, in some unaccountable way, gotten a mutual desire to see one another, as if neither had a home to which he could invite the other, made arrangements in a very formal manner to dine together at a hotel in this village . . .

If you love reading about the writing life, you will find short article of interest: “The happiest day in Herman Melville’s life.”

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The grand lady of American Letters, Joan Didion, has a new book coming out next year, a memoir about aging called Blue Nights. Didion, who almost single-handedly created the genre of literary non-fiction (a bit of an overstatement but close (enough) to true) has been a favorite of mine for many years.

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“What Bloggers Owe Montaigne” is a wonderful essay at The Paris Review by Montaigne biographer Sarah Bakewell.

Bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago. Montaigne, in turn, might not have expected to be remembered so long, least of all in the English language—yet he always believed that such understanding between remote eras and cultures was possible. “Each man bears the entire form of the human condition,” he said.

As you might know, from reading my posts here, Montaigne is the writer-thinker-friend I have turned to repeatedly for as long as it matters. As this article demonstrates, Montaigne continues to influence–to this day–as he did centuries ago. There is the hue of immortality to that.

And interestingly, to speak of current and lasting influence, there is this extended essay over at The Nervous Breakdown on all things Montaigne, thanks to Jason Chambers, Johathan Evison, Dennis Haritou and Jason Rice. Their piece is called: When We Fell in Love: Sarah Bakewell.

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A bit of Maine. My review of Maine writer, Susan Hand Shetterly‘s book, Settled in the Wild, is now up at Mostly Fiction dot com. As the dusk jack reads: “Like Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver, Susan Hand Shetterly takes a magnifying glass to the wilderness that remains, spending the time few of us take to really look.” I am, admittedly a fan of all things Maine (well, most all things…), but objectively, this is a wonderful little book.

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Read On!

…walking across town.

In Dogs, Life on February 18, 2011 at 9:59 pm

We have panhandlers in Portland. A lot of panhandlers. I walk across town almost every day (to the Y–no longer the Young Men’s Christian Association. Now just the  Y.) and am always accosted (though that seems such a strong word). I give. I have been fortunate and recognize it. Most of these guys (always guys) have not (been fortunate, that is) and maybe a buck or two from me will make them feel more so. I recall reading a biography of Samuel Johnson. He was admonished by a friend for giving money away to every drunk and indigent who approached him. He said something to the effect that he did not care what they spent the money on, that he was not in a a position to judge; that he only hoped if, for instance, they liked to drink, his donation would give them happiness in more drink. It is probably a naive consideration, but I find it a refreshing perspective. Regardless, why justify? If someone asks me for a bit of change because they’re in a hard way, I wish to help. “Seek and ye shall find.”

And, while on the subject of walking across town. Why is it that people with pooping dogs (and all god’s creatures gotta poop) think that because their dogs shit in/on the snow they don’t have to pick up behind the beast? What?, does snow, as it melts, make the shit disappear? No, to the contrary, it rises to the top. Our town is littered with ever so much and canine poop seems to be in a pole position.

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Enough ranting. I have a new (short) essay up at The Nervous Breakdown: Like Burned Coffee.

Rimbaud

In Books, Life, Literature, Memoir, Writers on December 2, 2010 at 10:12 am
The Young Rimbaud

The Young Rimbaud

It probably sounds deathly esoteric, but I’ve been reading I promise to be good, The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud. A French poet, Rimbaud (1851-1891), at the age of twenty-one, abandoned poetry and disappeared into the African desert. Of the book, a Modern Library edition,the publisher writes:

A moving document of decline, Rimbaud’s letters begin with the enthusiastic artistic pronouncements of a fifteen-year-old genius, and end with the bitter what-ifs of a man whose life has slipped disastrously away. But whether soapboxing on the essence of art, or struggling under the yoke of self-imposed exile in the desert of his later years, Rimbaud was incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence.

I don’t read much poetry, unfortunately. (It is a personal shortcoming of which I am fully aware. As they say, “no culture exits until the poets arrive.”) Rimbaud came to my attention through the great American writer, Jim Harrison, who someplace wrote of Rimbaud’s lasting influence. I respect Harrison a great deal, so I followed his lead and started reading the poet. I found the book of his letters on the discount used book rack at Longfellow Books. I have the collected letters of V. Woolf and Joyce and a couple of others; but letters, as a literary form, never deliver on the promise I hold for them. Not so here. These are different. In his letters Rimbaud paints a compelling notion of a life I find equal parts exciting and tragic.

Writing from Cyprus, the young Rimbaud asks his parents to send two books: The Illustrated Book of Agricultural and Forestry Sawmills (3 francs, with 128 pictures), and The Pocket Book of Carpentry. They are tools, these books, resources for a world that knows no poetry. Indeed, by this date, Rimbaud the poet is no more. His poet self is dead. And a new man, in search of a new life, has taken his place in full. Several months later, in another letter to his family, he writes, sadly, “The books never came, because (I’m certain) someone took them in my absence, as soon as I had left for Troodos. I still need them…”

Another year later still, in a letter to his family, Rimbaud states, “I am living a really stupid, tiresome existence.” Not long after, Rimbaud disappears into the North African desert.

The phrase, “The books never came…” breaks my heart.

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I have a couple new pieces at The Nervous Breakdown:
“The First-Person Singular”

“A Man Gets into a Cage With a Tiger…”

And another at The Millions:

“Who Will There Be to Talk To?”

Review of Miscellany

In Books, Reading, Technology, Wisdom on November 5, 2010 at 8:17 am

In a piece called Generation Why? one of my favorite contemporary writers, Zadie Smith, reviews The Social Network in The New York Review of Books. I mentioned it because I found the movie an unlikely favorite, a sort of Melvillian study in obsession, à la Moby Dick, but with a computer replacing the whale.

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There is a terrific article in the current The New Yorker on Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s collection of correspondence and letters. I confess to infrequently investing in a full reading of a New Yorker article, but this one was different. I knew of Moynihan, of course, but didn’t really know why I knew of him.  Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The piece is a nice introduction. Where are the Moynihans of today?

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My favorite local beer–local or not, always a favorite–is Allagash White. But there is a contender, though not local, but close. Three Philosophers beer from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. I mention it because of the label description, which reads: “cultured yet wild, curious yet wise.” If one were so inclined, there is an apt and wonderful epitaph.

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In the category: Not yet read but going to read: Hamlet’s Blackberry. As you may know from reading my occasional rants here, I am conflicted over the import of technology on our lives. This book takes up the question. One reviewer, quoted on the author’s homepage, states: “To those dithering over whether to close down Facebook accounts, resign from the Twitterati, and resume a more contemplative and more properly connected life, this remarkable book presents the answers and the validations for which you have been hoping.  William Powers, brave in intent and wise in argument, offers in these pages an oasis of serenity and sanity, a sanctuary from a world fast turning into a limitless digital Sahara.

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There are three blogs I read regularly. I thought I should link them here. There is The Millions, a site for readers. It was here I started my David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest journey. There is The Rumpus, a terrific site for all things cultural (popular). And then, The Nervous Breakdown, an energetic blog of ideas and notions, leaning in the writerly direction. I contribute regularly to The Nervous Breakdown (TNB). To wit, a new essay, “I have no natural capacity for anything.”

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I leave you with a quote: “Doubting pleases me no less than knowing.” ~ Dante

Walk On!

In Philosophy, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom on October 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I have new essay is up at The Nervous Breakdown. It begins:

“Despite my titanium hip, and the foot problems from years of marathoning, despite my tender back–one slipped disc–and the general wear and tear on this 55 year-old aging-athlete’s body, I (still) like walking. It does not escape me that my ancestors trekked from the savanna plains of Africa over 100,000 years ago and never stopped. It comforts me that, as a species, we have walked virtually everywhere, planting our feet on most every single spot planet earth has to offer.  It comforts me too, that despite the automobile and the jet, the boat and the train, our first inclination is to get up and walk. I do not take walking for granted. Over the years I have occasionally been in traction, on crutches, in pain or in some other way disposed of my ability to walk. When this has happened, I pretend that I will never walk again. I do this, like thinking of sickness when I am perfectly healthy, as a way to remind myself not to take walking for granted. (This is not unlike the Buddhist practice of going to the cemetery to remind oneself that one day it will all come to an end.) There are a lot of people who cannot walk and I do not want to be one who forgets this.”

To read the full essay, follow to this link: Metaphor: On Walking