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.

-Rumi

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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.

Talking about running

Blazed through Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running this week.  Murakami has this mellow conversational style to his writing that treats the extraordinary almost as a matter of course.  Running is his memoir of life as a novelist and a runner, and I feel like it shares some similar qualities with the only other Murakami book I’ve read — Wind Up Bird Chronicles.  There’s the fantastical and the grim, but he treats those elements like they’re really just light things.  Running a 62 mile ultramarathon? He doesn’t have much to say about first 30 miles (!) cause the last 8 were really the toughest to get through.

Realized after reading this that getting through pain, enduring it, enjoying the challenge of it, and even forgetting enough of it to tackle it again in the future (like childbirth) is what has brought him fulfillment and success in the paths that he’s chosen.  Like the video of children in the Marshmallow experiment, that never stops amazing me at how it’s such a neat metaphor for adult life – desire, attainment, ambition, self-restraint.

It’s amazing because those essential emotions don’t really change when you get older, and you can recognize those emotions you still feel but just don’t externalize like these kids do.  Like the feeling that “I just DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!” but instead of squirming we give ourselves migraines, drink and procrastinate, or just get bitter, in order to cope with it.

Getting yourself out of bed to run at 6:30 in the morning is already a start.  At least attempting it, persisting in attempting, even though you might not be able to run for an entire mile.  That is your goal – your deeply personal, individual goal.  You might have natural talent for whatever it is you want to do, but it’s not enough.  You must keep racing yourself, and really for no one but yourself.  In such a way it’s easier to see what you were meant to do, need to do, and no longer care about the approval or disapproval of those around you.  And maybe you’ll find others like yourself running along that path that you’ve chosen.  Like Murakami running along the Charles, you’ll nod and smile at your fellow runners in the chilly New England fall, knowing that you are alone and yet not alone.

Salinger, Recluse

Why I believe literature will not die.  It might not live as widely in print, but the feeling of getting into someone else’s head, feeling their feelings, experiences, and desires.  That’s what good art does – allows us to feel for each other and to practice being something other than oneself.  When else can you really do such a thing?
I went to a Wesleyan alumni talk a few weeks ago where Amy Bloom said that people often mistake her for a compassionate writer when she’s actually an insatiably curious writer.  For me, curiosity is inextricable from empathy and com-passion.  Con-passion.  To suffer with, feel with.  To be interested in something or someone is to step into that subject-position and vantage point.  I feel that I can at least try to see with a thousand eyes, one at a time, to understand the world that much better.  “He can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.”  I love this because it is so true.  Though it has to be tempered with openness and generosity, but can’t that be manifested in more ways than can be portrayed by the media?
So many half-finished thoughts today.  I started reading Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain the other day, and have found that it doesn’t make me angry anymore.  In fact, I like it.  Go figure.

Letters of JD Salinger open to the public for the first time.

“The lust for Salinger gossip reached a fever pitch when he died in January. Successful authors, like any public figures nowadays, are expected to prostrate themselves in front of our culture and allow their lives to be picked clean. Salinger would not. …These letters confirm a few theories about Salinger, including the fact that he continued to write from his secluded home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was quietly sitting on several unpublished novels and stories. They also tear down some damning assumptions—that Salinger was a complete misanthrope, that he hated children, and that he was incapable of caring for anybody, paralyzed by his distaste for phonies and literary leeches. In these letters, in fact, he’s a wit, a devoted father, a lonely middle-aged man and at his core, the kind of writer who just wants to write until he can’t put pen to paper anymore, because that’s the only truth he knows.  ‘Some of the letters are very dark, but they also show a kind of witty, jollier side of J.D. Salinger that I never knew existed,’ Kiely says.  ‘He knows himself really, really well. His self-knowledge is what comes through—he can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.‘– TONY

Keep dancing, keep running, painting, stretching, creating, till you can’t put pen to paper anymore.

每天寫幾句

好久沒寫中文了。 我答應自己每天要寫幾句,終有一天會找到我未來的目標。再想一想,我認為自發地創造和思考也是一種自制力。能夠看青自己的才能和自己的弱點,這也是一種能力。

慢慢地打漢字,感決像剛從深度睡眠醒來的生物,要從新學語言。讓我想到這部影片:The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

努力地創造。為了紀念,為了發展。

My girl George Eliot

Courtesy of my love Mel.

“One of my favorite writers, George Eliot, observed that ‘the subtlest tests of education are those of empathy.’  She was telling us that our connectedness with others makes us better people than anything else we learn in school — and suggesting that we should value ourselves as friends, loving partners, parents, and caring people first, and as capable CEOs, architects, teachers, software engineers second.”

“If you make your time in college not only to prepare to make a living, but also to make a life, you will become…in the words of George Eliot, ‘a person who makes others glad you were born.’  If there’s a more cherishable personal compliment, I haven’t heard it.”

–Janis McDowell, Taipei American School Graduation Speech, 5/30/04

I wish Ms. McDowell spoke at my high school graduation too.  But reading the full speech during my lunch hour on a bench at Madison Square Park, the sun warm on my face, was a revelation.  Of course.  If this were my last day, I would have lived the better for it.  I am satisfied.  That mad man Walt Whitman said it best.

O Me, O Life

Walt Whitman

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.