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215/ Heyday

Perhaps truth and beauty defer each to the other, taking turns, like good friends, or partners. And when both shine at the same time and place, the result is art.

One of my Philosophy professors made this observation: the luckiest minds are those who get to live at the turn of the century, for then they have the works of philosophers past to synthesize and recycle into new theses for philosophers of the next one hundred years to digest.

That professor has all my respect and admiration but I find that the luckiest are really those who get to live in an era right on the cusp of change, for then they have no premises and parameters to limit their imaginings. Uncertainty allows their mind to run wild and bold, for what is there to do when confronted with the unknown?

To be pure is to be uncomplicated, and to be uncomplicated is to be a cretin or a trout or some inanimate thing.

France New York California: the year was 1848, these cities were at the point of important transition, and Benjamin Knowles was all there to stand witness. Revolution Modernity Gold Rush. How could Benjamin Knowles not succumb to restlessness, exhilaration, fearlessness? How could Polly Lucking Timothy Skaggs Duff Lucking not share the adventures with Benjamin? They had nothing to lose and everything around them was an opportunity to turn life in their favor. The future was up grabs, rightly so thus, seize it they did.

Commonplace and tired, true, but fortune does favor the bold. Yet the adventure must come to an end, as it inevitably does anyway at a certain point. The key is restraint, knowing when to stop and when to take on a new beginning.It’s tricky but it’s what I like about “Heyday” — Kurt Anderson made Knowles and Skaggs studies in stark contrast. Knowles wanted to go on and discover new frontiers, so he got to lead a new life with Polly. So did Duff. Skaggs chose to stay, so he got to enjoy his own idea of romance albeit for only a short while.

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214/ Portrait in Sepia

Isabel Allende articulates in “Portrait in Sepia” two creeds I have come to embrace  over the years.

Here’s one about photography and writing:

My nightmares are a blind journey through the shadowy caverns where my oldest recollections lie locked in the deep strata of consciousness. Photography and writing are a tentative way of seizing those moments before they vanish, of fixing those memories in order to give meaning to my life.

And another about friendship and the amazing benefits that come with it:

Marriage is a commonsense affair, something neither of us has much of. The fact that we are not married enhances our love. That way each of us can do what we do; we have our own spaces, and when we are about to erupt, there is always the escape of living apart for a few days and coming back together when we yearn for kisses.

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213/ The Weekend

Who we are—if we see and understand, we have the chance to go beyond it. If not, we are trapped in it. For that reason, however, we mustn’t impose the truth on others.

Is there any way to justify terrorism? I can never understand how there is a need to spill blood and sacrifice innocent lives, children especially, purportedly for the common good. It cannot be for the common good if there are lives, children especially, that have to be excluded. Surely, those sacrificial lives do have meaningful relationships with the people they love and will leave behind.

But here’s Marko, in Bernhard Schlink’s “The Weekend,” convincing us of the merits of terror attacks. He wants us to consider the aftermath: “You probably think September Eleventh was just some crazy Muslim affair. No, without September Eleventh none of the good things that have happened over the past few years would have happened. The new attentiveness to the Palestinians, still the key to peace in the Middle East, and to the Muslims, still a quarter of the world’s population, the new sensitivity to the threats in the world, from the economic to the ecological, the realization that exploitation has a price that is always rising—sometimes the world needs a shock to come to its senses.”

Nope, sorry Marko, not buying it. We need a shock, yes, but not the kind that kills thousands of bystanders who have nothing to do with whatever it is the terrorists are fighting for. Who are these terrorists to impose their so-called truths on the rest of us?

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212/ Life After Life

I run to death, and death meets me as fast. And all my pleasures are like yesterday.

The thing about life is that it’s our one shot at everything in this world. Our one and, fortunately or unfortunately, only shot. After that, who knows what’s next.

Perhaps we leave everything in this world behind us as we move on to a new world where death is that great beauty that transcends all.

Or maybe we get to go back here on earth and lead a new life after new life after new life. Like Ursula in Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life”: “She had obscure memories of elation, of falling into darkness, but they belonged to that world of shadows and dreams that was ever-present and yet almost impossible to pin down.”

If that were the case, what to do with life then?

Ursula opts to go after Hitler and see if this world can be rid of Holocaust. I’ll probably take my aim at Marcos and see if my country can be rid of Martial Law.

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100 Books

211/ Netherland

Life goes on…and on. .and on. Then it grinds to a halt. Because sometimes we need to see what the fuck really is going on.

So we get to ask profound questions. Like this in Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland”:

In the space of a few pages, his winter self was crossed out by his summer self which in turn was crossed out by his next self. Told thus, the story of my son is one that begins continuously, until it stops. Is this really the only possible pagination of a life?

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210/ Adverbs

I say happiness is a state of mind and one can choose to be and stay in it. For 2016, I choose happiness and I choose love to take me there.

For starters, here’s Daniel Handler’s “Adverbs”—where characters, story lines, and magpies bleed from one chapter to the next without orienting the reader.

This is love, and the trouble with it: it can make you embarrassed. Love is liking someone a whole lot and not wanting to screw that up.

I want to love you and take you pretty places. Yes, I have things wrong, but also I can walk through walls if you’ll let me show you.

“Adverbs” is not the most inspiring and exciting love story out there (sleep-inducing comes to mind most times) but it has interesting moments. The chapter called “naturally” is the best, where this comes from and it feels so real: “This is a love worry, of course. It is the trouble all the time with love. You see the person and you want to cry…But all the time you know the depressing thing: she doesn’t even know you exist.”

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209/ Nicholas Nickleby

It’s Hallowe’en! This passage from Charles Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby” I find most chillingly appropriate:

There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change—a dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day and grain and by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load and feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life—a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death—a disease which medicine never cured, wealth warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from—which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.

“Nicholas Nickleby” also tells us that, with hard work and beauty and grace, there’s no difficulty that cannot be overcome. Dickens essays: “Poverty should engender an honest pride, that it may not lead and tempt us to unworthy actions, and that we may preserve the self-respect which a hewer of wood and drawer of water may maintain—and does better in maintaining than a monarch his.”

There are people out there—a porcupine’s a featherbed to them and they’d be happy to bed you with them. Say no.

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