Category Archives: Commonplace Book

“Shelley was so right: atheism is an absolute necessity in this world of ours. If we are to survive as individuals we can rely only on those resources provided by our human spirit—appeals to a deity or deities are only a form of pretence. We might as well howl at the moon.”

— William Boyd, Any Human Heart (2002)

 

Very nice weather in Seattle today…

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James Turrell, Skyspace, 2003

My family went to an excellent installation at the Henry today:

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I could never do justice here to the artist’s thinking, but there is much worth reading at the link above. Aside from the many skins, pictures, books and oddities, perhaps what I enjoyed most were the ~150 wonderful excerpts from an incredible variety of literature, poetry, scientific publications and other sources. Printed on 8″ x 11″ paper that you are encouraged to touch and take with you, they are well-curated and very thought provoking. A selection I picked up are quoted below.

It also has inspired me to create my own Commonplace Book as a section of Idle Bandwidth. The wikipedia background on this tradition is fascinating actually, and I think it will be rewarding over time. Maybe Lauren and I can sit down in twenty years and compare notes.

Let us take the time in this fast and ever-changing life which harasses us and tears us to pieces; to have the strength to remain slow and clam. To work outside the elements of disintegration that surrounds us. To comprehend life in its slow and clam sense.

— Fernand Leger. Das Figürliche Werk. Köln : Museen der Stadt, 1978. p. 52.

If the single starling is a wonder of melodic invention, a flock of them constitutes harmonic counterpoint. Melody against melody, their simultaneous lines of flight cross without crashing. Perhaps they follow Baroque laws of relative motion, as the relation of bird to bird appears contrary, oblique, or similar, but rarely parallel. They intermittently form dense cluster chords as they crowd together. Beyond music, the murmuration functions as a particle mind, each bird a thought. Watching the flock, I begin to connect the dots.

— Devin Johnston. “Murmurations.” In Creaturely and Other Essays.  New York, NY: Turtle Point Press, 2009. 37.

Even now, as I write this, I can still feel that tightness. And I want you to feel it—the wind coming off the river, the waves, the silence, the wooded frontier. You’re at the bow of a boat on the Rainy River. You’re twenty-one years old, you’re scared, and there’s a hard squeezing pressure in your chest. Still there was so much to say. How the rain never stopped. How the cold worked into your bones. Sometimes the bravest thing on earth was to sit through the night and feel the cold in your bones. Courage was not always a matter of yes or no. Sometimes it came in degrees, like the cold; sometimes you were very brave up to a point and then beyond that point you were not so brave. In certain situations you could do incredible things, you could advance toward enemy fire, but in other situations, which were not nearly so bad, you had trouble keeping your eyes open.

— Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried. New York: Mariner Books, 2009.

Helianthus evolved in the American Southwest, and later spread across the American plains, courtesy of the great herds of bison. Their matted coats snagged the little hairs at the ends of ripe sunflower seeds and carried them away. When the seeds dropped off, they fell on ground that their chauffeurs had tilled with their hooves as they passed through the high grasses. In a matter of weeks, stems and leaves would rise out of the trampled earth. It was as if the bison left a trail of sunflowers, like bubbles in the wake of a boat. Some ten thousand years ago, Native American tribes began migrating across those same lands, along the bison trails, and gathered the ripe seedheads. The seeds could be hulled and ground into flour or mixed with berries, meat, and fat into a sort Of energy bar called pemmican. The hulls, brewed in hot water,made a gorgeous purple dye.

— Ruth Kassinger. A Garden of Marvels. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.