“Literature is food for the soul and the heart. There are books that are pure escapism: thrillers, detective and spy novels, but I can’t read them, because they don’t deliver to me. Whereas from one page of Dostoyevsky I feel renewed, however depressing the subject.” - Edna O’Brien
It was after I left graduate school to write. The first failures were to be expected and I came to understand how little I knew about living. I resolved to read. Over 80 books in that first year. There was a point while engaging Nietzsche that I was confronted with a truth I struggle with to this day. He made it clear that those who were not writers, poets, artists and philosophers, that everyday folks like me should not be reading him, that essentially it would be dangerous and a waste of time. So much room for misunderstanding and misconstrual. I acknowledged his admonition and forged ahead. And as each year passed in failure, going on 30 years now, Nietzsche was ever-present, smirking and berating in High German. But here’s the deal, though not a writer but simply a reader who writes to understand, Edna O’Brien speaks to me. Reading isn’t escapism. Books that don’t deliver have no appeal. So, over time, I read Dostoyevsky, and Emerson, and Nietzsche, and D. H. Lawrence, and de Beauvoir, and Bakunin, and Mumford, and Whitman et al., and it’s like, how do you quit?, how do you stop? O’Brien nailed it, literature becomes sustaining and necessary, “food for the soul and the heart.” Failure then becomes a means to an enriching, imaginative life, a means to a more deeply felt joy and love.
“Nora is an individual, one particular person, whose psyche has been formed by temperament and a series of circumstances. She has just emerged from a long period of suffering… She is trying—like each of us—to do the best she can. As any of us approaches middle age, we inevitably come up against our limitations: the realization that certain dearly-held fantasies may not be realized; that circumstances have thwarted us; that even with intention and will we may not be able to set our ship back on the course we’d planned. Nora… has a glorious vision of life as she wants it to be. She feels it’s within her grasp. So you could say she indulges an illusion, for a time. The loss of which makes her angry—not just angry at the illusion, or at its loss, but angry also about the underlying limitations and failures that preceded the illusion, that precipitated it.” - Claire Messud
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost."
Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via awelltraveledwoman)
Love, love… no other words suffice.
I think it’s rose-colored mist for me, clouded by what these two have shared and shown, I just need to say it, give it expression, Michelle Dean and Cheryl Strayed, truth-telling and thought-provoking philosophers. Yes, I don’t think they see themselves as such, grand philosophers of a new hope, a new time. Authentic and fearless human beings, fierce and engaging thinkers, pointing the way, pointing to what is intimately seen, heard and felt, women understanding that it’s time to destroy the grand ego-edifices constructed by thousands of years of male dominance and arrogance; time to try something different, time to be honest, and humble, and clear-seeing, and focus on love not hate, cooperation not competition, on life not destruction and death. Thanks you two for providing hope and a provoking and stirring sustenance.
Dean: Her powerful deconstruction of EGO, of the typical male temperament/personality/self thoughtlessly conjured and sent out into the world.
Strayed: Her pithy prose paean to “Authenticity. Guts. Forgiveness. Transformation. Grace.”
Four gems from Mary MacLane’s I Await The Devil’s Coming:
“Love is a shining figure with radiant hands, and it touches them all with its hands so that never-dying love enters into their hearts. And the love of each for another is like the love of each for self. And here at last is the truth.”
“… that the world, if it had a liver like mine, would be very different from what it is. The world would be many-colored and mobile and passionate and nervous and high-strung and intensely alive and poetic and romantic and philosophical and egotistic and pathetic, and, oh, racked to the verge of madness with the spirit of unrest.”
“… when at last you see someone looking toward you with beautiful eyes, and extending to you a beautiful hand, and showing you a beautiful heart wherein is just a little of beautiful sympathy for you—for you—that is harder than anything to bear. Harder than the loneliness and the bitterness—and the tears are nearer and nearer.”
“It is day after day. It is week after week. It is month after month. It is year after year. It is only time going and going. There is no joy. There is no lightness of heart. It is only the passing of days. I am young and alone.”
Yes, “of womankind and 19 years,” she goads and inspires. She saw, heard and felt life intensely, knew what it was, that there was more to it than what was on the surface, more to it than the drudgery, boredom and drumbeat of common understanding and belief, the joyless day to day framed by the conventions of her time, of any time. ♥ Mary MacLane
“I do not question the right of the writer to engage in debate on public matters, to make common cause and practice solidarity with like-minded others. Nor is my point that such activity takes the writer far from the reclusive, eccentric inner place where literature is made. So do almost all the other activities that make up having a life. But it’s one thing to volunteer, stirred by the imperatives of conscience or of interest, to engage in public debate and public action. It’s another to produce opinions—moralistic sound-bites—on demand.”
— Susan Sontag, “The Conscience of Words”