poetry

"Place Lag" and the magic of flight

Kottke posted a link to a vox.com article by Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot and author of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. This chunk of the article quoted by Kottke perfectly articulates a feeling about flight I’ve never been able to adequately put into words:

I came up with the term “place lag” to refer to the way that airliners can essentially teleport us into a moment in a far-off city; getting us there much faster, perhaps, than our own deep sense of place can travel. I could be in a park in London one afternoon, running, or drinking a coffee and chatting to the dog-walkers. Later I’ll go to an airport, meet my colleagues, walk into a cockpit, and take off for Cape Town. I’ll fly over the Pyrenees and Palma and see the lights of Algiers come on at sunset, then sail over the Sahara and the Sahel. I’ll cross the equator, and dawn will come to me as I parallel the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and finally I’ll see Table Mountain in the distance as I descend to the Mother City.

Then, less than an hour after the long-stilled wheels of the 747 were spun back to life by the sun-beaten surface of an African runway, I’ll be on a bus heading into Cape Town, sitting in rush hour traffic, on an ordinary morning in which, glancing down through the windshield of a nearby car, I’ll see a hand lift a cup of coffee or reach forward to tune the radio. And I’ll think: All this would still be going on if I hadn’t flown here. And that’s equally true of London, and of all the other cities I passed in the long night, that I saw only the lights of. For everyone, and every place, it’s the present.

Progress with an escape hatch : "Beer Can" by John Updike

Cleaning up the server and stumbled upon this unpublished draft. Updike, sigh, swoon.

This seems to be an era of gratuitous inventions and negative improvements. Consider the beer can. It was beautiful — as beautiful as the clothespin, as inevitable as the wine bottle, as dignified and reassuring as the fire hydrant. A tranquil cylinder of delightfully resonant metal, it could be opened in an instant, requiring only the application of a handy gadget freely dispensed by every grocer. Who can forget the small, symmetrical thrill of those two triangular punctures, the dainty pfff, the little crest of suds that foamed eagerly in the exultation of release? Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shaped tab, which, after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole. However, we have discovered a way to thwart Progress, usually so unthwartable. Turn the beer can upside down and open the bottom. The bottom is still the way the top used to be. True, this operation gives the beer an unsettling jolt, and the sight of a consistently inverted beer can might make people edgy, not to say queasy. But the latter difficulty could be eliminated if manufacturers would design cans that looked the same whichever end was up, like playing cards. What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.

On Writing Well Author William Zinsser dies

William Zinsser passed away today at 92. He described the process of writing On Writing Well in detail — and described its legacy:

On Writing Well sold its millionth copy in 2000. (Sales are now approaching 1.5 million.) It was a figure I could hardly believe or even imagine; I’ve never thought of myself as a “best-selling” author, and I’m still surprised to hear that someone knows my name and my books. The numbers that mean the most to me are the hundreds of readers who have written or called just to say how much they like the book and how much it helped them. Surprisingly often they use the phrase “You changed my life.” I don’t take that to mean that they found Buddhist enlightenment or quit smoking. What they mainly mean is that I cleaned out the sludge in their thinking that had paralyzed them from doing writing of any kind—a phobia not unlike the fear of cleaning out the closets or the basement. (The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking.) Now, they tell me, I’m at their side whenever they write, exhorting them to cut every word or phrase or sentence or paragraph that isn’t doing necessary work. That, finally, is the life-changing message of On Writing Well: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.

This Charming Charlie

One part Peanuts comic strip, one part Smiths lyrics. One hundred percent hilarious. See more here.

George Saunders's speech to the Syracuse U class of 2013

This speech slays.

Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf - seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things - travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) - but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality - your soul, if you will - is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Beautiful, devastating, and appropriate: Nora Ephron's Final Act

A moving tribute and farewell from son (Jacob Bernstein) to mother (Nora Ephron).

In the play my mother wrote, there’s a scene toward the end, in which McAlary, sick with cancer, goes to the Poconos to visit his friend Jim Dwyer, then a columnist at The Daily News. It’s a glorious summer day, and McAlary’s 12-year-old son, Ryan, wants to do a flip off the diving board, but he gets scared and can’t do it. So McAlary takes off his shirt, walks to the edge of the diving board and says to him: “When you do these things, you can’t be nervous. If you think about what can go wrong, if you think about the belly flop, that’s what’ll happen.”

And then McAlary does the flip himself and makes a perfect landing.

It’s a metaphor, obviously, for his view about life. And I’ve come to think it might as well have been about my mother. The point is that you don’t let fear invade your psyche. Because then you might as well be dead.

As she saw him, McAlary was a role model not so much in life, but in death, in the way that he used writing to maintain his sense of purpose and find release from his illness. In the six years my mother had MDS, she wrote 100 blog posts, two books and two plays and directed a movie. There was nothing she could do about her death but to keep going in the face of it. Work was its own kind of medicine, even if it could not save her when her MDS came roaring back.

Read the whole thing. Keep a box of Kleenex or a towel handy.

For Star Trek Geeks: Riker Ipsum

Need to fill a space with a block of text? Tired of the usual Lorem Ipsum? Now you can fill your space with bonafide Riker-isms.

Fate. It protects fools, little children, and ships named “Enterprise.” When has justice ever been as simple as a rule book? Yesterday I did not know how to eat gagh. Smooth as an android’s bottom, eh, Data? Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. Maybe if we felt any human loss as keenly as we feel one of those close to us, human history would be far less bloody. You did exactly what you had to do. You considered all your options, you tried every alternative and then you made the hard choice. Come on. Let’s get out of here, Commander.

Via kottke.org

Merry Merry and Happy Holidays

One of my favorite Christmas stories from David Sedaris:

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and watch out for the Bishop of Turkey.

Zadie Smith & Jay-Z

A beautifully written piece from Zadie Smith for the NYT:

But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands. Then something changed: “As I started getting life experiences, I realized my power was in conveying emotions that people felt.” He compared himself to a comedian whose jokes trigger this reaction: “Yo, that’s so true.” He started storytelling — people were mesmerized. “Friend or Foe” (1996), which concerns a confrontation between two hustlers, is rap in its masterful, full-blown, narrative form. Not just a monologue, but a story, complete with dialogue, scene setting, characterization. Within its comic flow and light touch — free from the relentless sincerity of Tupac — you can hear the seeds of 50, Lil Wayne, Eminem, so many others. “That was the first one where it was so obvious,” Jay noted. He said the song represented an important turning point, the moment when he “realized I was doing it.”

At times he restricts himself formally, like the Oulipo, that experimental French literary group of the 1960s. In the song “22 Two’s,” from 1996, we get 22 delicious plays on the words “too” and “two.”

Ten years later, the sequel, “44 Fours,” has the same conceit, stepped up a gear. “Like, you know, close the walls in a bit smaller.” Can he explain why? “I think the reason I still make music is because of the challenge.” He doesn’t believe in relying solely on one’s natural gifts. And when it comes to talent, “You just never know — there is no gauge. You don’t see when it’s empty.”

Pantone Skin Tones: humanæ

An ongoing project by artist Angelica Dass.

Humanae inventory is chromatic, a project that reflects on the colors beyond the borders of our codes by referencing the PANTONE ® color system.

The project conducts a series of portraits whose background is dyed the exact shade extracted from a sample of 11x11 pixels from the very face of the people portrayed. The ultimate aim is to record and catalog, through a scientific measurement, all possible human skin tones.

Pretty cool stuff. Definitely worth seeing the whole collection. In a similar vein to the work of Pierre David.

Gary Snyder in the Paris Review

Beth and I saw Gary Snyder speak at Berkeley in Doe Library a few nights ago. Snyder is among my favorite poets; hearing him speak and read some of his works fulfilled an old dream. He lectured mainly on his acts of translation, interwoven with anecdotes from his past.

This interview from the Paris Review sums up many of the reasons I like the man. A few gems follow (some line breaks added to split up the text):

I guess one’s work as a writer really holds one to the literally physical act of writing and visualizing and imagining and researching and following out the threads of one’s project. However, if one is a nonfiction prose writer or a poet, one is apt to be much more closely engaged with daily life as part of one’s real work, and one’s real work actually becomes life.

And life comes down to daily life. This is also a very powerful Buddhist point: that what we learn and even hopefully become enlightened by is a thorough acceptance of exactly who we are and exactly what it is we must do, with no evasion, no hiding from any of it, physically or psychologically. And so finding the ceremonial, the almost sacramental quality of the moves of daily life is taught in Buddhism. That’s what the Japanese tea ceremony is all about. The Japanese tea ceremony is a model of sacramental tea drinking. Tea drinking is taken as a metaphor for the kitchen and for the dining room. You learn how to drink tea, and if you learn how to drink tea well, you know how to take care of the kitchen and dining room every day. If you learn how to take care of the kitchen and the dining room, you’ve learned about the household. If you know about the household, you know about the watershed. Ecology means house, oikos, you know, from the Greek. Oikos also gives us economics. Oikos nomos means “managing the household.” So that’s one way of looking at it. I understand that there are other lines and other directions that poets take and I honor them. I certainly don’t believe there’s only one kind of poetry.

And then the fundamental ethical precept: whatever you do, try not to cause too much harm.

Auspicious Arrival of Yung T'ao

Last night, while blindly hunting for old video footage from my time in Nepal, I stumbled upon a random screen capture of the below poem. I remember finding it with @tricyclesam and appreciating it.

The brevity of the poem strikingly underplays its precision and resonance. We may not know Sword Gate, the Lu River Wilds, or a frosted scene puckered by chrysanthemums - but the structure and diction evoke clear images, and more profoundly, clear feelings. Pretty neat and powerful stuff.

This morning
laughing together;
just a few such days
in a hundred.

After birds pass
over Sword Gate, it's calm;
invaders from the south
have withdrawn to the Lu River wilds.

We walk on frosted ground
praising chrysanthemums bordering fields
sit on the east edge of the woods,
waiting for the moon to rise.

Not having to be alone
is happiness;
we do not talk
of failure or success.

Chia Tao (779-843)
translated by Mike O'Connor
from The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China

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