Such happiness, to be alone. To see the hot late-afternoon light on the sidewalk outside, the branches of a tree just out in leaf, throwing their skimpy shadows. To hear from the back of the shop the sounds of the ball game that the man who had served me was listening to on the radio. I did not think of the story I would make about Alfrida— not of that in particular— but of the work I wanted to do, which seemed more like grabbing something out of the air than constructing stories. The cries of the crowd came to me like big heartbeats, full of sorrows. Lovely formal-sounding waves, with their distant, almost inhuman assent and lamentation.
This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be.
”—Alice Munro, “Family Furnishings” from Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (via malletmouth)
“Let me tell you what I do know: I am more than one thing, and not all of those things are good. The truth is complicated. It’s two-toned, multi-vocal, bittersweet. I used to think that if I dug deep enough to discover something sad and ugly, I’d know it was something true. Now I’m trying to dig deeper. I didn’t want to write these pages until there were no hard feelings, no sharp ones. I do not have that luxury. I am sad and angry and I want everyone to be alive again. I want more landmarks, less landmines. I want to be grateful but I’m having a hard time with it.”—Richard Silken (via aplethoraofquotations)
Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say ‘going through the motions’—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
“There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”—Flannery O’Connor
“[She] began to think that all the beauty and ugliness and turbulence one found scattered through nature, one could also find in people themselves, all collected there, all together in a single place. No matter what terror or loveliness the earth could produce—winds, seas—a person could produce the same, lived with the same, lived with all that mixed-up nature swirling inside, every bit. There was nothing as complex in the world—no flower or stone—as a single hello from a human being.”—Lorrie Moore
"What ‘used to be’ is painful to remember. Forcing the spike of an unlit firework into the cold, dry ground. Admiring the frost on the holly berries, en route to school. Taking a long, restorative walk on Boxing Day in the winter…
“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”—Martha Nussbaum
I used to believe that every person in the world travels through that world with tentacles. When one person joins with another, at least some tentacles become entangled and are no longer free to spring out, to be alerted to the rest of the world.
Then, two years ago, I met someone whose very appearance made me realize I was wrong.
No, a person does not drive through the world with grabbers. A person drifts through the world on the verge of a breakup into particles.
”—Veto Vito – Jonathan Harris’s moving portrait of 74-year-old poet, architect, and conceptual artist Vito Acconci. (via explore-blog)
“Every life ends, and everything runs toward its end, but in the meantime, how much happiness can be withstood? Narrative, or at least one type of narrative, seems to be about just that, and it’s the deepest sort of quest for a writer—to find the perfect sad ending with so much happiness in it that it is almost indistinguishable from a happy ending.”—Rebecca Lee
“Stars die, and are born, in places like this one — a stellar nursery. They condense like raindrops from giant clouds of gas and dust. They get so hot that the nuclei of the atoms fuse together deep within them to make the oxygen that we breathe, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood. All of it was cooked in the fiery hearts of long vanished stars. You, me, everyone. We are made of star stuff.”—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Ep 1: Standing Up in the Milky Way)
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.
“Let’s say that you were madly in love with someone. And your mission was to tell the person that you love them. Here are two scenarios. One is you can take a week long train trip with the person, take your time. You’ll be in boring situations, beautiful scenery, everything. That’s a novel. The second scenario is she’s stepping on the train and you have three minutes. So you have to make all that decoration in three minutes. That’s a short story. You just have to shout it as she goes.”—George Saunders (via mttbll)
“People need each other and that actual interaction or relationship or friendship or romantic love affair — all the different ways relationships take form — is one of the hardest things we do in our lives. It’s one of the biggest risks we’ll take in our lives. […] If you say “Yes” to someone, “I will,” you are also saying “I will be hurt by you,” because you can’t have relationships if you’re not willing to be disappointed and hurt by that person. It’s almost impossible. You have to be able to enter into the world and realize that the richness of life is all the good and joy and thrill of it but also all the disappointment and hurt and heartache of it and that all of that is what’s great.”—Philip Seymour Hoffman