Tag Archives: prose

Kay Redfield Jamison Quotes

“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against– you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.”
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness


“I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist.”
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

Think of the gladdest sound you know

Think of the sound you make when you let go after holding your breath for a very, very long time. Think of the gladdest sound you know: the sound of dawn on the first day of spring break, the sound of a bottle of Coke opening, the sound of a crowd cheering in your ears because you’re coming down to the last part of a race–and you’re ahead. Think of the sound of water over stones in a cold stream, and the sound of wind through green trees on a late May afternoon in Central Park. Think of the sound of a bus coming into the station carrying someone you love.
Then put all those together.Gary D. Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars

Alone in my horror

“I close my eyes and I let my body shut itself down and I let my mind wander. It wanders to a familiar place. A place I don’t talk about or acknowledge exists. A place where there is only me. A place that I hate. I am alone. Alone here and alone in the world. Alone in my heart and alone in my mind. Alone everywhere, all the time, for as long as I can remember. Alone with my Family, alone with my friends, alone in a room full of people. Alone when I wake, alone through each awful day, alone when I finally meet the blackness. I am alone in my horror. Alone in my horror. I don’t want to be alone. I have never wanted to be alone. I fucking hate it. I hate that I have no one to talk to, I hate that I have no one to call, I hate that I have no one to hold my hand, hug me, tell me everything is going to be all right. I hate that I have no one to share my hopes and dreams with, I hate that I no longer have any hopes or dreams, I hate that I have no one to tell me to hold on, that I can find them again. I hate that when I scream, and I scream bloody murder, that I am screaming into emptiness. I hate that there is no one to hear my scream and that there is no one to help me learn how to stop screaming… More than anything, all I have ever wanted is to be close to someone. More than anything, all I have ever wanted is to feel as if I wasn’t alone.”
– James Frey

that only we fashion supplication into courtesy

“We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog’s yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum’s scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother’s retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what’s brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd.”
by David Foster Wallace – Girl with Curious Hair

How do you know

You want to travel with them. You want to see what they’re like going through airport security, on planes, in strange countries. You want to meet their families and charm them to pieces. You want to nestle into their childhood beds and look around in the dark at all their old posters. You want to see all the embarrassing photos of them with braces and socks pulled up mid-calf. You want to hear all the stories about their drunken nights under the bleachers and their best friend’s jokes. You want to read all their journals, see how they took notes in high school. Did they use pen or pencil? What color highlighter? You want to work with them, just to see them work. You want to go out with them. You want to make out with them in the bathroom. You always want to touch them; you want them to always want to touch you.

You find reasons to disentangle yourself from them; it’s only going to hurt later, you can tell already. You stay up way past your bedtime for them. You look at the clock and know their schedule. You neglect other people and other things, and beat yourself up about it. But it’s like they have a hold of your hands and your voice, and you don’t mind. It’s like you’re trapped in an hourglass; you know your lungs might fill with sand, but there’s something sensual and comforting about the grains sliding down glass walls and pooling around your ankles, your knees, your waist.

You like things about their appearance that the rest of the world may cringe at and call strange, less than perfect. Their broken, reshaped noses; their little teeth or the gaps in between them; the way they pull their hair; their narrow hips; their wide shoulders; the depth of their pores. You can laugh when funny things happen in bed. You usually want to be in bed with them.

You think they’re smarter, better, friendlier, fitter, happier, more productive than you are. You strive to be as much as they are, as good as they are. You try to cheat and figure out what it is they’re going to teach you, if they’re going to fall from grace, if you’re going to play a part for them that you never thought you’d play before. You try and pull patterns and threads of meaning from the conversation or the way they looked at you the first time you met; what they did, what they offered. An apple stolen from the bar. Notes from a guitar. Pitchers of free beer. Pieces of bark with writing on them.

You cherish snippets of them; paste them up in your memories like old faded scrapbooks clutched to chests for generations. Their skin glows black and white in your head. They star in the little short films of your life that sneak up on you when you’re not looking. Like the walk to the South End for dinner on a quiet corner. The feel of the sun beating down on you both at an outdoor concert. The way they ordered wine on your first date. The slow swing of a hammock near a lake. The back seat of their car.

You can see yourself with them in the future you can’t quite see. You build apartments outfitted with all the right kitchen supplies and the perfect bed with two nightstands, each piled with books and magazines. You wait for them patiently while they chase their dreams; they wait for you patiently as you chase yours. You sit in bed eating dinner late at night, drinking tea and wine and whiskey as you tell each other all about the chasing. You create adopted dogs and cats; you have awkward conversations about money; you put up with each other’s crap. You see what they look like standing at the end of a candle-lit aisle in your grassy front yard and wonder if you’ll make it to the other end to meet them or if they’ll just end up in the scrapbook clutched to your chest or flickering on the screen in your brain.

” by Talia Ralph, How Do You Know

funny word salad

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve been further even more decided to use even go need to do look more as anyone can. Can you really be far even as decided half as much to use go wish for that? My guess is that when one really been far even as decided once to use even go want, it is then that he has really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like. It’s just common sense.”

via Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like? | Know Your Meme.

Nourishing sex

This is a passage from Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.

There is lovemaking that is bad for a person, just as there is eating that is bad. That boysenberry cream pie form the Thrift-E Mart may appear inviting, may in fact, cause all nine hundred taste buds to carol from the tongue, but in the end, the sugars, the additives, the empty calories clog arteries, disrupt cells, generate fat, and rot teeth. Even potentially nourishing foods can be improperly prepared. There are wrong combinations and improper preparations in sex as well. Yes, one must prepare for a fuck – the way in which an enlightened priest prepares to celebrate mass, the way a great matador prepares for the ring: with intensification, with purification, with a conscious summoning of sacred power. And even that won’t work if the ingredients are poorly matched: oysters are delectable, so are strawberries, but mashed together…(?!) Every nutritious sexual recipe calls for at least a pinch of love, and the fucks that rate four-star rankings from both gourmets and health-food nuts use cupfuls. Not that sex should be regarded as therapeutic or to be taken for medicinal purposes – only a dullard would hang such a millstone around the nibbled neck of a lay – but to approach sex carelessly, shallowly, with detachment and without warmth is to dine night after night in erotic greasy spoons. In time, one’s palate will become insensitive, one will suffer (without knowing it) emotional malnutrition, the skin of the soul will fester with scurvy, the teeth of the heart will decay. Neither duration nor proclamation of commitment is necessarily the measure – there are ephemeral explosions of passion between strangers that make more erotic sense than many lengthy marriages, there are one-night stands in Jersey City more glorious than six-month affairs in Paris – but finally there is a commitment, however brief; a purity, however threatened; a vulnerability, however concealed; a generosity of spirit, however marbled with need; an honest caring, however singed by lust, that must be present if couplings are to be salubrious and not slow poison.

the universal tree thing

This cosmology rests on a metaphor of time as an extra spatial dimension. If you have never been exposed to the idea of higher spatial dimensions, explained using the analogy of a 2-dimensional creature picked up into a 3-d world, you should read more books. Edward Abbott gets credit for originating the analogy with his book Flatland, published 1884. (http://www.alcyone.com/max/lit/flatland/).

That it is useful and valid to think of time as an extra spatial dimension has not been disputable since Einstein. In case you aren’t sure what Einstein said, here is my one paragraph summary of special relativity based on algebra: We have the equation Speed = Distance/Time; every kid learns this in grade-school. Einstein showed that only the left side of the equation (the speed of light) is a constant, and that the things on the right side, including the units of measurement, are variables which we can play around with as long as the relation works out the same. The top and bottom of a ratio can both be multiplied by two or divided by miles-per-hour without changing the equality; if we multiply the ratio by certain things it might simplify the denominator while making the numerator more complicated, or if we’re clever we might find a divisor that simplifies both. The important point is that we end up having to treat them together, to deal with space and time as inseparable.

And that’s how we get the idea of space-time, space and time pushed into a single concept in a way that completely confuses our intuition about both. Mathematicians and physicists are still working out all of the implications of the merger, but the rest of us needn’t concern ourselves with the details. The big picture is that there’s another way of looking at space and time that is just as valid as our intuitive way of looking at them (many of the most important inventions of the last 50 years are based on the new way of looking), and which treats them (space and time) as basically the same kind of thing.

Now think about the way we experience space and time. From the perspective of our lived experience, space and time are completely different kinds of things. Space is like a field, far larger than ourselves, in which we can move around more or less at will. Time, on the other hand, is like a tiny capsule in which we are carried along whether we want to be or not. We are not free to move about in time the way we can in space. Wise people are always telling us to embrace that constraint, to “live in the moment,” which really means to stop daydreaming about what life would be like if we could escape the present.

The view of the universe I’m about to describe is one of those daydreams. Not a daydream about being locked in a different moment in the past or future, but about being able to move freely through moments and perceive all of time in a way similar to the way we perceive space.

In this moment, that is, in this cross section of four dimensional space-time, you look like a person sitting in a chair looking at a computer screen. In another cross section you will look like a person laying in a bed. Now imagine that you can experience time as a continuous field, just the same way you experience space. Imagine that you can see all the moments, all the cross-sections of time, that lead you from the chair to the bed.

The first thing you would notice is that those moments are connected without any discontinuity. Between the time you sat in the chair and the time you laid in the bed you were moving around in space-time without any breaks, without ever disappearing and reappearing again. You would look like a long, human shaped tube, colored pink or brown or whatever color you are. If you could see that whole tube all at once, the whole curve of your life, it would follow an amazingly complicated path full of spirals (where you kept leaving and returning to the same place), sudden jags (where you traveled a distance quickly), and straight sections (where you stayed in the same place for a while, your only motion through the time dimension). If you followed your tube all the way to its beginning, you would find that it grows smaller and smaller until it meets up with another tube from which it first emerged, like a branch from a tree. That other tube is your mother. If you follow her tube just a little way back you’ll see it bumping up against another tube. That’s your dad.

In this way all of humanity is connected like a big, crazy tree. Billions of little human-tubes which travel along singly and in groups and join together and branch apart and spin and weave and spiral around each other in a shape more complicated than anything we can imagine in just 3-dimensions. But the shape is still basically a tree. It branches; that is basic character. It bifurcates through time, so that if we trace the tendrils backwards through human history and prehistory we would see them fuse together and become less numerous the farther back we went. We would also see that the branches are different as we move back in time, or rather, we would notice that the average branch at one time is different from the average branch at another time. If we kept tracing the branches of the human tree backwards in time, at a certain point there would be a relatively small number (tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps) of them that looked significantly different from the (6 billion) branches at the end. They would look different enough that we would say we are no longer looking at humans, but at Australopithecines.

And if we traced those branches back we would find them fusing and changing again into yet other species, which occasionally send different branches forward in time all the way to the present. In fact, now that we have got to the idea of other species, we should reexamine the tree in the present and notice that the tree of humanity is actually coexistent in space with thousands of other species-trees (really branches of the same tree), some of which look quite different from our own. Some of those trees (the plant species) appear to be discontinuous until we look very closely and see that each branch (each organism) really is connected to another before it, if only by a tiny seed. If we look still closer we would see another class of organism (bacteria) which are really densely interconnected, branching and merging again, and sharing little bits of themselves without having to branch or die (Bacteria stretch the tree metaphor. They are more like a densely connected graph. In computer science, a tree is a special case of a graph, which is just a data structure composed of nodes and branches.). And all those species-trees interact in complicated ways. Human-branches gobble up cow-branches. The bacteria-tree grows in and around the human-tree like dense webbing.

It’s interesting to notice that by thinking about time this way we can continue going backwards right to the very beginning and it’s trees all the way down. All of the life that we’ve been talking about so far is happening on the surface of the Earth, but the Earth wasn’t always here. All of the matter in our solar system came from somewhere else, and all of that matter came from yet another place, until we get back to the big bang. So, all of the objects in the universe, which our human, time-locked perceptions interpret to be discrete, become parts of one big tree from the perspective of this four-dimensional space-time view. All the life on Earth is just like a moss covering the tip of one branch of the universal tree-thing.

I think this is a wonderful view of the universe. It comes from my friend Isaiah and I have only elaborated on it a little bit here. Isaiah, if you read this would you add something in a comment? This whole conversation happened because we saw a bum sleeping by the river and I said that made me sad and you said you weren’t bothered but I can’t remember the connection between that and this well enough to write it down.

One thing that occurs to me to wonder is whether observations about the topology of the tree might lead anywhere useful. For example, consider the way the topology of the human-tree has changed with urbanism. These days there are sky-scrapers full of cubicles which fill up with people every day. This is like thousands of branches coming together in a 3-d grid, traveling in parallel through time for 8 hours, dispersing into a big knot at night, and repeating it the next day. Clearly there are things we already know about that kind of structure (that it is weak against an attack like 9/11, for example), but what I’m curious about is whether observations about the structures (topology) we see today, or about trends in the way the topology is changing, might lead to predictions about what the whole tree will look like in the future.