Archives For Quotery

Feb 14

A process of refining the truths two people tell each other

By Adrienne Rich:

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

~ quoted from The Forty Words of Love, by Elif Shafak (a historical novel about the Sufi mystics Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, which I read during Burning Man)


Fire in a Burning Man sculpture
Fire spreads across the roof of a sculpture at Burning Man


This year, I’ve gained a new interest in personal spiritual experience — so my approach to Burning Man 2016 was very different. In the past, I’ve focused on art and dancing and stuff, with triumphant articles like The Best Art At Burning Man 2015. (Note: Anything I say about Burning Man that includes the word “best” is a joke.)

So this year I did less art-hunting, but there’s always plenty to see. On my way to the desert, I was reading Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I encountered a section with this heading:

No Trace: When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

One of Burning Man’s Ten Principles is Leaving No Trace. Officially, this is about our environmental impact — we don’t want to leave a mess in the fragile desert. But Suzuki started the San Francisco Zen Center, which became active before Burning Man began in San Francisco, and someone in the original Burning Man crew probably read the book.

Continue Reading…

Feb 14

I Live In Your Eyes

This is part of a poem by Farouk Goweedah. It was originally written in Arabic and translated by someone named Fisal, whose last name I regrettably do not know, and who posted his translation of Goweedah’s poem here, under the title “I Live In Your Eyes.” (I slightly modified a few lines.)

​Your love is my faith,
my forgiveness and my disobedience.
I met you with hope
remaining in my arms
like spring without a bird.
On the ruins of a garden,
the winds of sadness squeeze me
and laugh in my chest.
I love you like an oasis
on which all my sorrows have calmed.
I love you like an aura
that sings my songs to people’s silence.
I love you like an ecstasy that runs and fires my volcano.
I love you, meeting me like morning light.
Love has killed many lovers,
and your love has given life to me.
And if I were to choose a home,
I would say:
My home is your love.
And if I were to forget you,
my heart would forget me.
And if I lost my way,
I would live in your eyes.

Aug 14

The invisible city of Zobeide

From Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities:

You arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound around themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive’s trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city’s streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten.

New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.

Jul 23

Aphorisms about conversation

Years ago, while working in a bookstore, I discovered an obscure little book called Conversation by André Maurois (translated from the French by Yvonne Dufour). It’s from 1930, and it’s full of wonderful observations about interaction.

Some of these aphorisms seem obvious; some impenetrable; some culturally defined and no longer applicable; some ironic; some calculated to inspire disagreement. I enjoy them all. Here are some favorites:

I like this saying from Stevenson: “There are but three subjects of conversation: I am I, you are you, and others are strangers.”

An anecdote must be introduced at the very moment it illustrates what has just been said. The pointless anecdote is offensive.

Men so like to be talked about that a discussion of their faults delights them.

The most secretive of men are given to confidences, but this under the form of general ideas. Even I … as I write this …

We can speak frankly of our faults only to those who acknowledge our qualities.

Advice is always a confession.

What men are slower to forgive is the evil they have spoken of you.

A good argument too often repeated loses its strength. It seems that the mind, like the blood, produces antitoxin and can be rendered immune even to evidence.

Both started a conversation other than they wished. Now they are powerless to stop it. Their sentences, like a train, pass before them noisily, and they — belated, careless switchmen — watch it run on the wrong track, to sure disaster.

It happens that, when with some people, we play a certain part. Through a sort of indolence we fall back into this part whenever such people appear, and they are right when they judge us as wholly different from what we are.

One might well believe that mutual confidences are in themselves a safeguard against indiscretion. Yet such is not the case. Men think that their own affairs are so different from those of others, that they find it natural to betray while they hope to be served.

Continue Reading…

Feb 14

Tanith Lee on love

My favorite author is named Tanith Lee. I’ve previously posted a favorite Lee quotation, Disturbed By Her Song. That’s a beautiful one, though it seems sad to me. Here are two more bits from Lee’s writing about love.

From The Silver Metal Lover:

A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is —
The color of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.

A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will.
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same.

From Delirium’s Mistress:

“Love is everywhere,” said Chuz gently, stroking her hair, “and the death of love. And time, which is built of the histories of death and love. Death and time I had always conceded, and acknowledged. And now I see plainly what love is. Not in you, pretty, mortal child. But in my arms that comfort you for wounding me, in my hands which soothe you for it, in my words which say to you, in despite of me, Do whatever you must. This lesson I will not remember. Nor shall I ever forget.”

(Delirium’s Mistress is part of the Flat Earth series, which is one of the best fantasy series ever written. It’s incredible and I strongly recommend it to anyone, even if they think they don’t like fantasy. The first book in the series is called Night’s Master.)

Apr 15

Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could

I haven’t read The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich, but a quote from it was read aloud to me recently. It goes like this:

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.

And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

Mar 2

My favorite Marc Chagall quote

“I am against the terms fantasy and symbolism in themselves. All our interior world is reality — and that perhaps more so than our apparent world.

“To call everything that appears illogical, fantasy, fairy tale, or chimera would be practically to admit not understanding nature.”

Jan 11

The faded-sky poem My November Guest

Whenever I find myself within a cold, faded, white-skied day, I think of Robert Frost’s extraordinary 1915 poem My November Guest.

It’s not November, but here’s my day:

And here’s Frost:

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Dec 2

Abstraction is a type of decadence

A few years ago, I was visiting the apartment of a dear friend and I saw this photo on his wall:

Jenny Holzer Abuse Of Power Comes As No Surprise Shirt

I was so thrilled by the photo that my friend made me a knockoff of the shirt, which was originally created in the 1980s by the artist Jenny Holzer. Then I got so excited about my knockoff shirt that my friend made me another shirt. The new shirt features two more Holzer slogans:



I love these shirts, and I often have interesting conversations with passerby when I wear them. Sometimes, at art events, people recognize the Holzer reference, and we enthuse together.

Jenny Holzer may be best known for her list of Truisms. These have not merely appeared on t-shirts, but have been projected on huge public walls and posted on billboards.

I certainly don’t agree with all the Truisms — and I suspect that Holzer doesn’t either — but they’re really fun to read. Part of the maxims’ awesomeness is their uncompromising directness. Here are a few more that I like to think about:





Addendum: If you are really in love with Holzer’s work, then I also recommend the Twitter feed Jenny Holzer, Mom. It’s a mashup of Holzer-style maxims + the sensibility of a Midwestern mom. Examples: