A map of the world. Not the one in the atlas,
but the one in our heads, the one we keep coloring in.
With the blue thread of the river by which we grew up.
The green smear of the woods we first made love in.
The yellow city we thought was our future.
The red highways not traveled, the green ones
with their missed exits, the black side roads
which took us where we had not meant to go.
The high peaks, recorded by relatives,
though we prefer certain unmarked elevations,
the private alps no one knows we have climbed.
The careful boundaries we draw and erase.
And always, around the edges,
the opaque wash of blue, concealing
the drop-off they have stepped into before us,
singly, mapless, not looking back.
― from “Necessities”, Lisel Mueller, Alive Together
I visit him a few times downtown
while he paints.
We talk about how he’s going to Spain
for the fall semester
and he shows me a painting he did
and points to this one part,
a bridge, and tells me he thought of me
when he painted it.
It is so sad
how knowing something
can make me so happy.
― Samantha Schutz, I Don’t Want To Be Crazy
Fireworks, Vernon Bridge, Theodore Earl Butler, 1908
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun…. there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…. nor look through the eyes of the dead…. nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.
The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.
There is at the back of every artist’s mind something like a pattern and a type of architecture. The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would like to wander, the strange flora and fauna, his own secret planet, the sort of thing he likes to think about. This general atmosphere, and pattern or a structure of growth, governs all his creations, however varied.
Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!), Henri Rousseau, 1891
We are known, appreciated, even cherished by our favorite writers; every word of our favorite books seems to have been written for us. Within their sentences and paragraphs, those writers are forever available, forever patient, including us in their compassionate recognition of the impossible, exhausting complexity of being human (those “many thousand” selves), never ignoring us or abandoning us or finding us dull. It’s you, they whisper, as we turn their pages, you are the one I’ve been waiting to tell everything to.
The word I love is Arete.
It has a simple meaning and a complicated meaning. The simple one is: excellence. But if that were all, we’d just use Excellence and I wouldn’t bring it up until we got to E. Arete means your own excellence. Your very own. A personal excellence that belongs to no one else, one that comes out of all the things that make you special and different. Arete means whatever you are best at, no matter what that is. You might think the Greeks only meant things like fighting with bronze swords or debating philosophy, but they didn’t. They meant whatever you’re best at. What makes you feel like you’re doing the rightest thing in the world.
But when they made love he was offended by her eyes. They behaved as though they belonged to someone else. Someone watching. Looking out of the window at the sea. At a boat in the river. Or a passerby in the mist in a hat.
He was exasperated because he didn’t know what that look meant. He put it somewhere between indifference and despair. He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.
So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression.
―Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
I was helpless in trying to return people’s kindness, but alswo helpless to resist it. Kindness is a scarier force than cruelty, that’s for sure. Cruelty isn’t that hard to understand. I had no trouble comprehending why the phone company wanted to screw me over; they just wanted to steal some money, it was nothing personal. That’s the way of the world. It made me mad, but it didn’t make me feel stupid. If anything, it flattered my intelligence. Accepting all that kindness, though, made me feel stupid.