Category: articles

The quest for home

Krista Tippett in conversation with Junot Díaz, author of the novels Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and This Is How You Lose Her (interview via the On Being podcast). I mention him previously here. Emphasis mine.

Ms. Tippett: Also, back to the matter of intimacy and love — I mean somewhere you’ve said that the quintessential American narrative is the quest for home and that — but that’s not just about shelter. It’s about intimacy. It’s about love. I mean are those — as you think about walking through this American moment and expansively, having a large view, a long view of time in this long-term project we’re in, how do you — is “love” a word that enters your imagination, that enters your conversations these days, and what can that mean?

Mr. Díaz: Well, of course. I mean what are we in this game, if not for love? I can’t speak to anyone else, but if you’re — if someone tells me there’s no love in the universe, I’m — well, what interest is there in the universe, then? What’s interesting about the universe? For me, perhaps overly simplistically or perhaps overly sentimentally, love matters. I do believe that human beings are, without question, social creatures. Our biology seems to dictate that.

But I would also say that there is a challenge, in being human, that we have vulnerable needs, but we also have minds that can deceive us that these needs are unimportant. And for many of us, to be able to trust somebody else, to be able to have faith that someone else or that the future or that the community can take care of us, that we will not be destroyed when we lower our defenses, for many of us, that’s a challenge. And yet, you can’t have any kind of love, whether we’re talking about civic love or we’re talking about interpersonal love, without first dropping those defenses, without first making yourself vulnerable.

I mean ultimately, when you look at it — you don’t want to be too simplistic, but the nature of having these chats is, you oversimplify — but when you think about it, look at the whole debate around climate change. The whole debate around climate change is a bunch of lying fools sitting around, almost all male, but whatever — a bunch of lying fools saying, “The earth is not vulnerable. There is no injury.” And there’s just a repetition here; there’s this mantra that comes out of these hegemonies, which is: “We are invulnerable. We’re not vulnerable. There is no loss. We don’t need to change anything” that just is — it’s just destroying us, man. And it’s so dull and wearying, and yet, we’re all caught up in this madness, simply because of our pride, our inability to be like, “Hey, man, that hurts. Hey, man, that’s scary. Hey, sister, that’s humiliating.”

As Krista mentions in the interview: How refreshing that here is a Dominican man talking about vulnerability and love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what home means to different people. How much the word is defined by how you grew up, what you yearn for, and the ways in which you have been hurt. What types of intimacy create safe space. What types of intimacy should be reserved and which should be freely given to all.

Also relevant: I have noticed a big difference when someone has the ability to look at me (as the earth in Junot’s example) and face the damage instead of denying it: “Yes, there is injury here, so how do we fix it now? Let’s fix it together.”

to love inappropriately, to be ambitious, to simply want more.

J. and I walk to the edge of Chinatown and back. Our bellies are full from wine and pasta. It’s nighttime; the city stinks of summer, and we revel in it. I can’t stop thinking about how it’s already the end of summer. How will we survive the next winter? I am never ready for the cold. J. says, “Honestly, I think the worst thing is feeling lonely while you’re in a relationship.”

I nod, watching the headlights paint the corners of Bowery as the cars turn.

***

A tall guy with yellow lens sunglasses appeared next to me. The sun had already set. Do you dance? he asked, leading me towards the less crowded interior of the pier.

I liked that he modified the way he led turns to account for the wooden slats of the piers underneath my shoes. Turn AND turn AND turn. The pauses were one thing, and more so, the attention to and anticipation of the pauses made the thing.

***

I ran three miles along the river’s edge. On Being’s meditative cadence chanted at me, and Krista brings up Rabindranath Tagore’s quote: “We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”

***

I’m responding to K. about the things we talked about last night. “I’m too sensitive. Maybe I want too much. I should be okay with things as they are. I just need to stop bringing things up.”

“Don’t let yourself be gaslit,” K. warns.

The theme of hunger is everywhere.

In the New York Times today: Who’s Afraid of Claire Messud?

‘‘Women aren’t supposed to want stuff,’’ she said. ‘‘They’re not supposed to have high emotions.’’ Recently she went to a party where all the women were skinny and all the men were overweight. ‘‘For the men, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a person of appetites,’’ she said. ‘‘You’re in midlife, you’re at the peak of your professional moment.’’ Again, she slipped into character. ‘‘ ‘Pour me a glass of wine and give me a steak!’ ’’ The women, by contrast, were nibbling crackers and drinking seltzer. ‘‘There should be no shame in appetite,’’ she said, her voice rising. ‘‘There should be no shame in anger. There should be no shame in love. There should be no shame in wanting things.’’

‘‘If it’s unseemly and possibly dangerous for a man to be angry,’’ she said, ‘‘it’s totally unacceptable for a woman to be angry.’’

[Ferrante’s] work quietly seethes at the idea that a woman needs to be ‘‘likable’’ — or that a man should be the judge of her likability. More than that, it offers a space for women to be, as she puts it, ‘‘appetitive’’: to love inappropriately, to be ambitious, to simply want more.

The True American

Robert Pogue Harrison, The True American:

We are the most godless and most religious, the most puritanical and most libertine, the most charitable and most heartless of societies. We espouse the maxim “that government is best which governs least,” yet look to government to address our every problem. Our environmental conscientiousness is outmatched only by our environmental recklessness. We are outlaws obsessed by the rule of law, individualists devoted to communitarian values, a nation of fat people with anorexic standards of beauty. The only things we love more than nature’s wilderness are our cars, malls, and digital technology. The paradoxes of the American psyche go back at least as far as our Declaration of Independence, in which slave owners proclaimed that all men are endowed by their creator with an unalienable right to liberty.

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use (National Poetry Month)

It’s been a year since I embarked on a solo road trip along the West Coast and subsequently started a separate blog to jot down travel notes & inspiration. I also recently composed my first poem since 2009, so maybe one day I’ll finally start sharing my own poetry again. I loved what Ayana Mathis wrote about her trajectory as a writer. Like her, I started writing short stories when I was very young, then later I wanted to be a poet and I blogged my own poems in middle and high school. I’m not sure where my interest in writing my own poetry went, and my love of reading poems was sporadic but has never faded. In my day-to-day relationships, up until recently, I rarely mentioned poetry. Friends found it difficult to relate. As Jia Tolentino wrote about teaching poetry, “Not that I talk to anyone about poetry, ever. My relationship to it is sidelong and almost entirely private. I can’t write it; I read it irregularly. […] I could only locate myself as a student, with no authority, no important opinions, no sense that I was ever correct. And that, in the end, is what made me free.” Meanwhile, Ayana Mathis writes:

I was suspicious of all of the things I wanted, writing or otherwise, simply because I wanted them. And so my desires were reduced to beautiful dreams that floated through my adolescent and young adult life, only acted upon in halfhearted fits and starts. Five or six months of furious writing were followed by a year or two in which I didn’t pen a single line. I never made any real attempt at publishing my work. Better a dream deferred than hopes dashed.

I’ll blog more about Ayana’s essay soon. My friends tell me to be braver with my writing, they tell me I’m too cautious. There’s probably truth in that.

***

I collected many more quotes and poems on the other blog I created last year, but I promised to share here during National Poetry Month a few more of the poems I’ve enjoyed.

The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseen reading is always possible.

– J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year

Some little tastes of poetry for National Poetry Month after the jump below. By the way, Amazon has lots of deals on classic poetry compilations. You can also get Emily Dickinson’s complete poems on your Kindle for free!

Read More

Might books have some use, after all?

Define happiness, someone asked me recently. Absorption, I said instantly (it was an e-mail interview), and anything that gives me an inner life and a sense of spaciousness, intimacy and silence. The world is much better for many of us now than it was 10 years ago, and I never could have dreamed so many of us would have so many kinds of diversion, excitement and information at our fingertips.

But information cannot teach the use of information. And diversion doesn’t teach us concentration. Imagine a seven-hour-long heart-to-heart with someone who’s been saving up all her life for what she’s about to whisper in your ear. The medium that has been dying the whole century may be one way we can rebel against the hidden dictatorship of Right Now.

— Pico Iyer, on the tyranny of the moment (and why books may still be useful after all)