The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?
Uncle Pumblechook: a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to.
People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.
Love’s pure free joy when it works, but when it goes bad you pay for the good hours at loan-shark prices.
He was doing quite well until the last sentence, but if you bare your arse to a vengeful unicorn, the number of possible outcomes dwindles to one.
The Internet blew up this week. We learned that 8,000 Chinese students withdrew from US colleges in 2013-2014, for (cough cough whisper….) bad grades, or, perhaps, in some cases… (clear throat) CHEATING! Dun dun dunnnn! Cue all of America collectively seething in righteous fury.
Yet none of the thousand articles written made light of the fact that there were 275,000 Chinese students in America that year. That means a 2.9% withdrawal rate. The same year, DOMESTIC American college students couldn’t turn in a 6-year graduation rate above 60%, and our educators rejoiced that our HIGH SCHOOL drop-out rate dropped from 20% to 19%!
In case math bullied you on the playground, let’s look again. 2.9% of Chinese students in America leave college. 20% of American students leave high school. 40% of American students need 6 years to complete a 4-year degree, and accrue, on average, $35,000+ in debt while doing so.
I don’t even know why I read newspapers.
Julián had once told me that a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.
…from a book that easily and silently slid into no less than the #3 spot on my all-time favorite book list.
“Looking at Appalachia Anew,” says the New York Times, before immediately posting pictures of kids swimming in a river and herding goats. Unbelievable. That’s like saying “The new face of black America!” then posting pictures of Neon and Butch McRae.
Thoughtful and honest journalism from America’s most stalwart news source, folks.
Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.
…from The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and my current obsession, which I’m fairly certain is the only obsession I’ve ever had. My older brother recommended this book to me a few months ago, and my regret at not having followed his advice a few months sooner only proves the value in having older brothers.
Rest in peace, Mr. King…
(Jump to 33:50 if you like magic…)
Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards
…Changing of the Guards, Track #1 off of Bobby D-Bop‘s 1978 album Street Legal. It’s a pretty miserable song, actually, until you hear Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem sing it on what is likely the greatest compilation album of all time, and then, suddenly, it’s such a great protest song you don’t know what you’re protesting.
Rocking live version:
On the road where the light splits the gatherin’ dark
Like the sound of Paradise falls upon the damned of heart
I have an extremely long and shameless history of discovering songs that mess with my head and heart, then listening to them on repeat eighty or so times before ever playing a new track. In the past year, that’s included songs by guys like Ryan Adams and the Turnpike Troubadours, historically folks like Steve Earle, Jeff Buckley and the Gaslight Anthem, and my iTunes most played list could probably get me institutionalized.
Somewhere around 2003 however, at the age of 19, I heard a song by a painfully honest writer named Doug Burr. It must have come in one of those “up and coming” CD inserts Guitar World and other magazines used to slide in, though that’s no certainty. Either way, it was the first obsessive-repeat song I’d discovered after learning how to play, write and sing songs myself.
Pitifully tone deaf, barely able to tune a guitar, I found this Doug Burr guy’s website and emailed him, describing how his song had worked me over, and begging for the chords. They’re simple chords; any idiot could figure them out, but I didn’t realize that at the time. I was just freaked out by my desperation to learn a song for reasons other than the bribery of female attention in my college bedroom.
So you can imagine how miraculous it was when, a day later, I get a reply from Mr. Burr, giving me the paltry handful of chords that, experience has since taught me, were all I and any other lyrical songwriters have ever needed to know.
I’ve been playing and listening to this song for 12 years now, and music still hasn’t gotten any better.
I mention this, not because I want to thank him for being too cool, but because Doug Burr just released a new album called Pale White Dove, and it’s absolutely awesome.
…Dark As The Night, track no. 3 from The Sickle & The Sheaves, 2002, by Doug Burr.
…White Night – Black Light, track numero uno from Pale White Dove, 2015.
It’s always a tremendous honor to see things you’ve written in print. In this case however I’m particularly proud. To join writers of such deep and thoughtful conviction, in a dialogue about a city I love but to which, ultimately, don’t belong, is humbling.
If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you… Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.
Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society.
Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.
…Lee Kuan Yew, who’s currently in heaven with George Washington, bullying Napoleon.
In 1922, New York Evening Post columnist Ray Torrey wrote an article under a headline “A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia.” In August 1937, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world stretching from Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia was completed. This is where the modern mispronunciation of the word originated. “App-a-latch-an” worked its way south and emerged as “App-a-lay-shan” -a linguistic note that would soon become symbolic to America.
In 1964, Appalachia was thrown on the world stage when President Lyndon Johnson stood on a front porch in Inez, Kentucky and declared a war on poverty in the region. Johnson’s war was to stem the outward migration to urban areas and create economic opportunity. The reporters traveling with him on the campaign trail unloaded on the southern mountains depicting them as the most impoverished place in the nation. “App-a-lay-sha” suddenly became a whirlwind of photographs of coal mining, cultural ignorance and backwoods misery that shocked America.
Appalachia is the fourth oldest European place name in America, and I reserve the right to punch anyone who refuses to say it correctly.
In this story, she is fire-born:
knee-deep in the shuddering world.
In this story, she knows no fear,
for what is fractured is a near-bitten star,
a false-bearing tree,
or a dishonest wind.
In this story, fear is a house gone dry.
Fear is not being a woman.
I’m no ordinary woman, she says.
My dreams come true.
And she says and she is
and I say, yes, give me that.
The Japanese poet Lady Sute-jo (1633-1698) asks:
Short-cuts in the sky,
…from the Moon as Muse, which closes with one of the more remarkable poems I’ve read this…ohh…decade.
This should have been amusing to me, the expression on Burdmoore’s face as Sandro recounted the story. But I was focused on Ronnie and Talia, on the way he was making her laugh. Taxi-dino, innuendo. Pointing out a green-and-yellow Blimpie’s sign, “There! One of ours!” Her laughter penetrating his fake sincerity like carbonation.
In an essay titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Flow,” David Jauss coined (I believe) the term “rhythmic mimesis,” which pretty much describes everything I love about language. And guitars. And Steve Earle.
Delete the word “risen” from the translation, and one of the most beautiful examples of this, in the English language, is Isaiah 60:1 (King James Version):
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Think about it. Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is upon thee. You can’t repeat that three times without stomping your foot and hearing a blues rhythm. It’s impossible.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people:
but the Lord shall arise upon thee,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Seriously. It’s even got a built-in hook. Why hasn’t some rapper just recorded passages from the Bible with an organ and a church choir snapping their fingers? Call me, Kanye. I want my name on that Grammy.
“I just wish you would express your feelings more,” your girlfriend says. “I never know what you’re thinking.” You drink your drink. If only your girlfriend knew what you were thinking. Your thoughts are so brutal and true that they would scare her witless. She would die. And even through the buffer of this short story, female readers are probably becoming barren just by encountering the power of your thoughts, right at this minute, right now.
…ha. haha. hahahahahaha.
Here’s a post guaranteed to make an MFA student laugh, though only in a very nervous, shifty-eyed way.
Writing is like “chatting up a woman”, Japan’s superstar novelist Haruki Murakami has said: “You can get better with practice to a certain degree, but basically, you’re either born with it, or you’re not.”