Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.
We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
“When I wrote in Romanian, words were not independent of me. As soon as I began to write in French I consciously chose each word. I had them before me, outside of me, each in its place. And I chose them: now I’ll take you, then you.”—x
“For most of those which were great once are small today; and those which used to be small were great in my own time. Knowing, therefore, that human prosperity never abides long in the same place, I shall pay attention to both alike.”—Herodotus | The Histories
“Kahlo, a native of Mexico City, disliked most of the Americans she met. “They are boring and they all have faces like unbaked rolls,” she complained in a letter to a Mexican friend.”—Leo and Frida: The Doctor and the Artist l Catherine Reef
“They are into the books. Sometimes they move the pages like sleepers who turn over between two dreams. Ah, how good it is to be among reading people. Why can’t they always be like this? You can go up to one of them and touch him lightly. He feels nothing. If you accidentally bump against a neighbour and excuse yourself, he nods and his face turns toward you but he does not see you. How comforting that is.”—The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge | Rainer Maria Rilke
My Iphone wakes up before I do, nudging my face like a cat.
Seratonin-boosting sunlight pours out of a screen set on “medium.”
A drop of blood red appears at the top of my Facebook page. I am liked.
Kim Jong Un’s finger presses the button on my coffee maker. I hear his disembodied voice say take that, America.
My mini cooper lights up as I approach, like my grandmother used to do.
My audible navigation system forgives me for turning the wrong way. Says she is rerouting. Asks if everything is all right, if I found my adolescence conflicted. Wants me to turn left. I turn right and she forgives me again, reroutes me.
My bluetooth says some day my car will drive me around automatically and I can drink shots of tequila.
Google earth registers my bad hair day, which appears as the icon of a nest. On the other side of the world, Japanese schoolgirls point at it, laughing.
The smiley face on my Iphone slowly turns into a pig’s head and screams GET OUT!
I blink and it’s back to a smiley face.
My navigation system tells me to drive off a cliff, like Thelma and Louise.
A camera at a traffic light takes a photo of my license plate and another of my secret daily fear. It will use them both against me in 2015.
Siri says, you can tell me anything. I am your friend.
I tell her I have a pornographic birthmark that I have never shown anyone.
She says, show me.
Two seconds later, it’s gone viral, and I am the laughing stock of the web.
Siri says she’s sorry, she can’t help being a bitch.
The Dow Jones graphic punches my arm and runs away.
The avatar of a monk virtually immolates itself to protest a twitter war.
Siri says: When’s the last time you felt a warm horses’s neck or made a whistle from a blade of grass or wore down a needle playing the same vinyl record over and over and over?
Shut up, I tell her. I’m not talking to you.
Somewhere my twin on the other side of the solar system puts a message for me in a bottle but her planet has no water.
The DVR says here are your favorites. All the things that cheer you up. 48 Hours Mystery and Girls reruns. Hell of a life, my DVR adds.
A book sits on my night table. Just sits there.
My Facebook page is covered in red dots, like Bonnie and Clyde at the roadblock.
My sleep machine is on Spring Rain. Not spring rain from any particular place but just the sound, splattering against a daffodil made in a Google lab.
God sends a drone hand from heaven to pat my shoulder. Everything is going to be okay.
“The word “translation” comes, etymologically, from the Latin for “bearing across”. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.”—Salman Rushdie, from Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (via asymptotejournal)
Mom made a point of saying all this in public, on the air, as if it were just the two us talking.
'I don't know what to try next,' she said. 'I feel terribly alone. People are bored with your story. I feel as if doors are closing. My friends no longer want to see me. They say I depress them with my tears. And it's true, my darling, that I only speak about you, because it's the only thing that interests me, and all the rest seems superficial to me now. As if I could spend my time chitchatting when I know you are suffering!'
I wept in silence, repeating in a hushed voice, ‘Stay strong, my little mom. I have a surprise for you. In a few days, I will arrive somewhere, in a village by the side of the river. I will go and hide in the church, because the guerrillas will be looking for me everywhere, and I will be frightened. But from a distance, I’ll see the church tower, and I’ll find the priest. He will have a telephone and I’ll dial your number. That is the only one I have not forgotten: Dos doce, veintitres, cero tres. I will hear it ringing-once, twice, three times. You’re always busy doing something. Finally you’ll pick up. I will hear the sound of your voice, and I will let it echo for a few moments in the void, just long enough to offer up my thanks. I will say, ‘Mom?’ and you will reply ‘Astrica?’ because our voices are similar, and it can only be her. And then I’ll say, ‘No, Mamita, it’s me, Ingrid.’
My God! How many times have I imagined that scene?
You see, birds in the sky
Flying so high
Got everywhere to go
You find, faces with smile
You hear, calls from your friends
Songs from your heart
you never alone
You draw, picture you want
Dream in your life
When everyone passed by
You ain't left behind
I always stand by
When the sunset arrives
Your world is still bright
By the heart of light
Cos we always strive
In the beautiful life
In the beautiful life
“You always felt destined for stardom of one kind or another. But the fear that maybe that wasn’t true wouldn’t leave you alone. That you were no more than the classes you’d taken, the schools you’d attended, the books you’d read, the languages you spoke, your scholarships, your master’s thesis on Borges and the English writers, and so on, but nobody unique, with a talent only your own. You were desperate for something that was yours alone. I was yours alone, but that isn’t what you meant.”—Say Her Name | Francisco Goldman
“Consider incompleteness as a verb. Every verb has a tense, it must take place in time. Yet there are ways to elude these laws. The Greek verb system includes a tense called aorist (which means ‘unbounded’ or ‘timeless’) to capture that aspect of action in which, for example, a man at noon runs directly on top of his own shadow.”—Anne Carson in ‘Mimnermos and the Motions of Hedonism’ from ‘Plainwater: Essays and Poetry’
When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher. Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part, done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our head is, however, really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal — that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk. Such, however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read themselves stupid. … And just as one spoils the stomach by overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment. For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.