This Being Human

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness 
comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing.
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.



Marie Howe

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Teju Cole

What we see is an apparently uncomplicated scene of urban leisure on a Thursday afternoon, but all of this is happening in a historical context, and in the shadow of economic uncertainty… Some of the people are here because they’re out of work. You could say to yourself: New York City is an astonishingly diverse place, but we see around us all kinds of evidence of segregation: white students from NYU, and black women of a certain age working as nannies for white babies. We are looking at the American reality under an overlay of innocence…

This city, like many others, is a space that has been pre-inhabited, that contains the stories of people who are gone, who are vanished. We look at their inscriptions and we engage with their monuments, and we walk along their paths: every time you walk down Broadway, you’re walking along an ancient cattle path that was put down by Native Americans who then had an appalling encounter with European invaders and were more or less wiped out. But we still walk down their roads. And those roads themselves, and many of those buildings, were built by slave labor in this city, by people not only whose lives have been erased from the record, but whose deaths, in a way, have been erased from the record. Only recently was the burial grounds of the slaves rediscovered. And even then, most of that burial ground is covered with office buildings now. There’s this essential mystery of life in the city: it contains others who are not us in the present time — I’m not you and you’re not me, maybe we don’t live in the same neighborhood — but it also contains others who are not us, in the sense that so much of it was made by those others.

Teju Cole with Chris Lydon in Washington Square Park, New York City, May 12, 2011.

Arrested by complexity

1) What Are Young Chinese People Thinking About?

This is what moves me.  The individual stories, the particular and crystalline truths.  Watching 9/11 memorials on TV Sunday morning I was annoyed by the heart-tugging music that was supposed to tell you/describe how to feel.  I believe in letting people speak for themselves.  If you ask the right questions, the truth wants to come out, as people experience it.

2) Boy with his mother on the subway this morning, reading an I Spy type book.  After finishing the book, mother gives the boy a Transformer toy.  He holds it up by his face and smiling, peeks over it at the woman sitting across the aisle who smiles back.

Boy: Mama, I’m shy. 
Mom: What?
Boy (loudly, still looking at the woman): I’m SHY!  I’m really shy. (Woman laughs.  I’m cracking up)
Mom: Come on shy boy, we’re getting off now.
Boy (asking the woman across the aisle who has also gotten up): Where are you going?!?

3) Sometimes people who hate or can’t stand each other are held together by mutual love of something else.  Something greater.

4) Old folks: respect the wisdom of the young.  Young folks: respect the wisdom of the old.  There is grace and dignity in any and every age.

Hurricane Irene 2011

Irene 2011: Watch Roman Holiday with Mom, shore up fallen apple tree with Dad Mom and F, watch F and Dad try to roll a log across the yard, Dad telling us that he and Mom had surreptitiously rolled the log over from across the street when they cut it down this year, watch Francisco hang off of said tree to keep it upright and it barely moving, taking turns pruning trees with large saw, neighbors and passersby watching and commenting, bedroom redesign, then homemade apple cake with fallen apples, tea and Margaret Cho.

I think fall is here.