“The secrets to living are these: First, the past cannot be improved upon. Acknowledge what was and move on. Next, the future cannot be molded. Then, why bother? Last, nothing can ultimately be controlled; Not the past, nor the future, nor the present. Accept this moment as it is. Honoring these three, one lives without shackles.”
The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments. Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history of–oh, say–women. But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at your desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.
What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I’m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, is to stop. First I try to breathe because I am either sitting there panting like a lap dog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. I let my mind wander. After a moment I may notice that I am trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great and I’d be happy all the time, and then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work, and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia–if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together. Then I think about someone I’m really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today’s work. So I become a dog with a chew toy, worrying it for a while, wrestling it to the ground, flinging it over my shoulder, chasing it, licking it, flinging it back over my shoulder. I stop short of actually barking. But all of this only takes somewhere between one and two minutes, so I haven’t actually wasted that much time. Still, it leaves me winded. I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.”
–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
“Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”
–H. Jackson Brown Jr.
“Anxiety is the gap between the now and the later.”
“…It’s like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle’s form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those familiar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts Nabokov said. So the strange form of that belfry, turning onto itself again and again, felt familiar to me. For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell….”
–Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero p. 136
“It may seem paradoxical to say that we have been expelled from the present, but it is a feeling we have all had at some moment. Some of us experienced it first as a condemnation, later transformed into consciousness and action. The search for the present is neither the pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for a real reality.
We pursue her 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.”
– Octavio Paz
“The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade other people how good they are.”
– G.K. Chesterton
my small boat
This was said is such a succinct manner! How did the act of being positive transform into such a giant play and drama. How did the act of noticing and being grateful become a way to target the insecure and to charge them all money while handing them a way to build their houses of bricks, made of straw, to cover the pit? A pit that only requires some simple tools to be able to be looked at and to be corrected?
I like reading Chesterton, though I cannot say I follow his religious convictions. He does have a lot to say about faith, and the creation of all sorts of false idols to prop up one’s floundering insides. I find him full of humor and intelligent wit.