I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.
Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?.
A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.
That life - whatever else it is - is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.
You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.
But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.
—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.
And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.
And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.
...as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn't touch.
Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.
We are so customed to disguise ourselves to others that, in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.
And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky - so the space where I exist, and I want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.
To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole;.
What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted—? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?.
More than anything I was relieved that in my unfamiliar babbling-and-wanting-to-talk state I'd stopped myself from blurting the thing I'd never said, even though it was something we both knew well enough without me saying out loud to him in the street - which was, of course, I love you.
What if — is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions—? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes — the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?.
When we are sad—at least I am like this—it can be comforting to cling to familiar objects, to the things that don't change. Your descriptions of the desert—that oceanic, endless glare—are terrible but also very beautiful. Maybe there's something to be said for the rawness and emptiness of it all. The light of long ago is different from the light of today and yet here, in this house, I'm reminded of the past at every turn. But when I think of you, it's as if you've gone away to sea on a ship—out in a foreign brightness where there are no paths, only stars and sky.
And the flavor of Pippa's kiss--bittersweet and strange--stayed with me all the way back uptown, swaying and sleepy as I sailed home on the bus, melting with sorrow and loveliness, a starry ache that lifted me up above the windswept city like a kite: my head in the rainclouds, my heart in the sky.
Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life—a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple—the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last—it’s all temporary. Death in life. That’s why they’re called natures mortes. Maybe you don’t see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot. But if you look closer—there it is.
I was fascinated by strangers, wanted to know what food they ate and what dishes they ate it from, what movies they watched and what music they listened to, wanted to look under their beds and in their secret drawers and night tables and inside the pockets of their coats.
And I'm hoping there's some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it - although I've come to realize that the only truths that matter to me are the ones I don't, and can't, understand. What's mysterious, ambiguous, inexplicable. What doesn't fit into a story, what doesn't have a story. Glint of brightness on a barely-there chain. Patch of sunlight on a yellow wall. The loneliness that separates every living creature from every other living creature. Sorrow inseparable from joy.
The thought of her gave me such a continual anguish that I could no more forget her than an aching tooth. It was involuntary, hopeless, compulsive. For years she had been the first thing I remembered when I woke up, the last thing that drifted through my mind as I went to sleep, and during the day she came to me obtrusively, obsessively, always with a painful shock.
It happened in New York, April 10th, nineteen years ago. Even my hand balks at the date. I had to push to write it down, just to keep the pen moving on the paper. It used to be a perfectly ordinary day, but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail.
When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a glancing sun-struck instance that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch's ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature--fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place.
…still when I lost her, I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life….
Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to live and be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.
The shame that tormented me was all the more corrosive for having no very clear origin: I didn't know why I felt so tainted, and worthless, and wrong-only that I did, and whenever I looked up from my books I was swamped by slimy waters rushing in from all sides.
It's not about outward appearances but inward significance. A grandeur in the world, but not of the world, a grandeur that the world doesn't understand. That first glimpse of pure otherness, in whose presence you bloom out and out and out. A self one does not want. A heart one cannot help.
She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone.
My hopes for a relationship with her were wholly unreal, whereas my ongoing misery, and frustration, were an all-too-horrible reality. Was groundless, hopeless romantic obsession any way to waste the rest of my life?.
We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.
For humans-trapped in biology-there was no mercy: we lived a while, we fussed around for a bit and died, we rotted in the ground like garbage. Time destroyed us all soon enough. But to destroy, or lose, a deathless thing-to break bonds stronger than the temporal-was a metaphysical uncoupling all its own, a startling new flavor of despair.
If a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see and think and feel, you don't think, 'oh I love this painting because it's universal' 'I love this painting because it speaks to mankind'. That's not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It's a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes, you. An individual heart shock. . . .A really great painting is fluid enought to work its way into the mind and heart through all different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.
It didn't occur to me then, though it certainly does now, that it was years since I'd roused myself from my stupor of misery and self-absorption; between anomie and trance, inertia and parenthesis and gnawing my own heart out, there were a lot of small, easy, everyday kindnesses I'd missed out on; and even the word `kindness' was liking rising from unconsciousness into some hospital awareness of voices, and people, from a stream of digitized machines.
Why do I care about all the wrong things, and nothing at all for the right ones? Or, to tip it another way: how can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is illusion, and yet - for me, anyway - all that's worth living for lies in that charm?.
The sky was a rich, mindless, never-ending blue, like a promise of some ridiculous glory that wasn’t really there.
We looked at each other and just laughed; everything was hysterically funny, even the playground slide was smiling at us, and at some point, deep in the night, when we were swinging on the jungle gym and showers of sparks were flying out of our mouths, I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.
isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?.
Or rather, I dreamed of her constantly, only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she'd been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall. Sometimes I spotted her in a crowd, or in a taxicab pulling away, and these glimpses of her I treasured despite the fact that I was never able to catch up with her.
But though I knew just how lucky I was, still it was impossible to feel happy or even grateful for my good fortune. It was as if I’d suffered a chemical change of the spirit: as if the acid balance of my psyche had shifted and leached the life out of me in aspects impossible to repair, or reverse, like a frond of living coral hardened to bone.
For in the deepest, most unshakable part of myself reason was useless. She was the missing kingdom, the unbruised part of myself I’d lost with my mother. Everything about her was a snowstorm of fascination,.
Because you are not mad, or wild, or grieving! You are not roaring out to choke her with your own bare hands! Which means your soul is not too mixed up with hers. And that is good. Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to live and be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.
good doesn't always follow from good deeds, nor bad deeds result from bad, does it? Even the wise and good cannot see the end of all actions.
…I’ve come to realize that the only truths that matter to me are the ones I don’t, and can’t, understand. What’s mysterious, ambiguous, inexplicable. What doesn’t fit into a story, what doesn’t have a story. Glint of brightness on a barely-there chain. Patch of sunlight on a yellow wall. The loneliness that separates every living creature from every other living creature. Sorrow inseparable from joy.
There had been nights in the desert where I was so sick with laughter, convulsed and doubled over with aching stomach for hours on end, I would happily have thrown myself in front of a car to make it stop.
Hard to put things right. You don’t often get that chance. Sometimes all you can do is not get caught.
how strange to find that the present contained such a bright shard of the living past, damaged and eroded but not destroyed.
Hobie’s reassuring hand on my shoulder, a strong, comforting pressure, like an anchor letting me know that everything was okay. I hadn’t felt a touch like that since my mother died—friendly, steadying in the midst of confusing events—and, like a stray dog hungry for affection, I felt some profound shift in allegiance, blood-deep, a sudden, humiliating, eyewatering conviction of this place is good, this person is safe, I can trust him, nobody will hurt me here.
Always remember, the person we’re really working for is the person who’s restoring the piece a hundred years from now. He’s the one we want to impress.
It was rainy, trees leafing out, spring deepening into summer; and the forlorn cry of horns on the street, the dank smell of the wet pavement had an electricity about it, a sense of crowds and static, lonely secretaries and fat guys with bags of carry-out, everywhere the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live.