"She always wanted to be the kind of person who could play the “Moonlight” Sonata. 
She buries her failure at this, as she buries all her failures, in reading. 
The wine is finished; she sucks a lollipop that only tastes red. 
She reads for a long time until she hears what she thinks is her stomach growling, but it is, in fact, nearby thunder. 
And just after the thunder comes the rain, and with the rain comes the memory of the baby sinkhole under the southeast corner of the house."
-Lauren Groff, "Flower Hunters"


"In Ferrante’s novels, women disappear quite often—either at the hands of others or by their own will. Disappearance is a way to fight back against the demand that, as women, they must forgo any right to their humanity in service to their families. It is an act of rebellion against the idea of what women should be—an idea usually determined by men."
-Alexander Chee, "Elena Ferrante, Private Novelist"


Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from Onto A Vast Plain


To fall in love with a book, in that way that I and so many others have fallen in love with Ferrante’s, is to feel a special kinship with its author, a profound sort of mutual receptivity and comprehension. The author knows nothing about you, and yet you feel that your most intimate self has been understood. The fact that Ferrante has chosen to be anonymous has become part of this contract, and has put readers and writer on a rare, equal plane. Ferrante doesn’t know the details of our lives, and doesn’t care to. We don’t know those of hers. We meet on an imaginative neutral ground, open to all.
-Alexandra Schwartz, "The 'Unmasking' of Elena Ferrante"


“I’ve spent the past week—as I’ve spent much of the past few years—wanting only for the world to go away, for all engagements to be canceled, and to have more time with my family ... “It’s almost as if the desire for community is a nostalgic one; and the reality, with time’s winged chariot hurrying near, is that one longs increasingly for simple affections, for space, and calm, and time to work. What contradictory beings humans are.”

-Claire Messud, in an email


"When I was younger, I used to meet people at dog tracks and pot farms and other such places and do my best to describe them from the inside out. What we had in common was that we were all in on the same joke about the gap between stories and life, which is a name for a chaos that unfolds according to no given set of narrative conventions. To make sense of the unstable lives of these characters, I imagined them as figments of a much bigger story that could only be gestured at, a big novel whose quasi-religious valences would strike me with great force in the middle of the night as I slept in my one-room apartment in the West Village with my head right next to the oven. The fear to which my idea of some larger metanarrative applied was less about the tracklessness of existence than about what might happen to the particular space we shared, which was the imagined place where writers talked to readers. An onslaught of data-driven technologies coming out of California was replacing the imaginative work writers did with algorithmic outcomes, which would guide a reader’s choices and feelings based on the choices of large numbers of other people who had also interacted with the machines according to pathways laid down by the algorithms. As felt life was mediated and altered in this way, the vast encyclopedia of literary feelings and techniques that had once acted as a kind of thickening agent for writers and readers alike would become progressively obsolete, and reality would come to feel thinned out. Self-censorship would become the rule, even among those who retained the impulse to think and feel beneath a smothering blanket of anticipation and categorization whose only true aim was to keep any stray sunbeams of disorienting newness or weirdness from shining in through anyone’s window."
-David Samuels, "Weirdos"


It feels a little strange to come back to this space after having been away from it for so long, or at least after having used it as quote-storage rather than as a place where I actually dispense my own thoughts. But in an effort to combat both a writerly and spiritual malaise that has set upon me in the past few weeks, I've begun to devise ways to get myself back into the habit of spinning a yarn of words, the discipline of articulating a thought and following that thought to its end.

Distraction is settling for fragments, clipping thoughts and actions before they've run their course. Sometimes fragments can be useful as a form; they allow you to ricochet from one idea to another, a process from which other ideas can spring up, and this is a freedom that allows the complexity of the mind to reveal itself. But at other times, not completing a thought merely reflects a lack of self-discipline. It takes patience, constancy, and a willingness to be mired in the discomfort of not knowing in order to sink into a deep meditative state.

Of course, the technology in our lives complicates our efforts to prolong a thought, to finish a task in a slow and steady way. All the pings and quips and headlines that pop up on our screens, the convenient access to tabs and hyperlinks, the endless stream of notifications — these do not make it easy to remain in one mode for very long, at least not for me, someone who is very prone to distractions. It has been a point of despair and shame that I now often find myself forgetting what I have set out to do, just 30 seconds after I set out to do it. It is all too easy to lose myself in something of little significance, something so banal and frivolous that my attraction to it is certainly a moment of weakness, a lapse in judgment. I need more structure to anchor myself to activities that matter; these structures will hopefully act as a stopgap measure against the paralysis of self-loathing, which I inevitably fall into when I let myself float among the debris of the Internet / social media / etc...

I will also use this blog again as a place to collect my own thoughts rather than as a vehicle solely for collecting the well-articulated thoughts of others (though that will surely continue). Even writing a full sentence, whether in email or in a lonely chamber like this blog, feels like a tiny feat.


"A certain comfort with vulnerability might be the most prominent aspect of Hill’s personality. At lunch, he gets the hiccups. He warns me that his face sweats a lot, but that the rest of his body produces a normal amount of sweat, and he occasionally mops his forehead as politely as anyone can mop anything using a napkin that he has folded into a tidy mopping rectangle."
-What I have in common with Jonah Hill


these are notes to myself

1. Everything changes. Change is not bad. Do not be afraid of change. Do not be afraid to change.

2. Never let jealousy or insecurity ruin a friendship. You will regret it.

3. Always be kinder and more generous than you think is possible. You will not regret it.

4. Remember there is a wide, wide world out there. Get outside your own world, even when it is uncomfortable.

5. Friendships will change. People will come and go. That's not always in your control.

6. But when you can, make a big effort to keep your friends. Make an effort even when it is hard. And it will be hard.

7. You have the freedom to change your attitude. You have the freedom to change your mind. You even have the freedom to change the way you act. But don't forget that freedom does not exist in isolation—whatever you choose will affect the people around you.

8. Swallow your pride and say sorry. Admit you are wrong even if you feel just a twinge of wrongness.

9. Open your ears—and your heart—when people have feedback for you, even when it is painful to hear. Especially when it is painful to hear. Do not cut your friends out when they are correcting you. Your friends—the good ones—are probably right.

10. Stay curious. About people. About the world. Keep moving down the paths you have stumbled into, and go deep, burrowing as far as you can. This is the richness of the world.

11. Stay in community, even when you want out. This will save you. Reach out for help when you need it. Reach out to just one person when you feel you have no community.

12. Don't be afraid of being uncomfortable. Notice the discomfort. Stay there.

13. Stop being afraid of losing people, of losing a place, a position, a title. You are not entitled to anything. Unto you things are given and unto you things are taken away. It may be no less painful to accept this fact, but try. Do not attempt to preempt loss. You cannot defend yourself against it. Do not live less daringly, less courageously, for the sake of safety. Do not be afraid. Fear ruins many things; fear will cause your heart to waste away.

14. Help others. Be brave. Playing it cool serves no one. Your heart grows larger when you act out of love. Not the other way around.

15. Don't waste your time convincing people that you are worth loving. You are already loved.

16.  Pray. Journal. Keep writing. Just keep on writing. Fight to keep writing. Work hard, but love people more than you love your work.


"So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Glass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn't do. A woman, a child, a brother - a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia. He knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose - not to need permission for desire - well now, THAT was freedom."
-Toni Morrison, Beloved


-Jason Eskenazi, Wonderland

"And the Air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside."
-Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
"Can one be so gifted and yet so impervious to the presence of things? It seems one can. Some people are incapable of perceiving in the object of their contemplation the very thing that gives it its intrinsic life and breath, and they spend their entire lives conversing about mankind as if they were robots, and about things as though they have no soul and must be reduced to what can be said about them—all at the whim of their own subjective inspiration."
-Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of a Hedgehog


… everything around her was so alive and tender, the dirty street, the old trams, orange peels—strength flowed back and forth through her heart in weighty abundance. She was very pretty just then, so elegant; in step with her time and the city where she’d been born as if she had chosen it. In her cross-eyed look anyone could sense the enjoyment this woman took in the things of the world. She stared at other people boldly, trying to fasten on to those mutable figures her pleasure…"
-Clarice Lispector, "Family Ties" ("Os laços de família")


“We’re here under conditions, and you either accept them or fight them, but the conditions aren’t going to change at all. So you can either accept the conditions as they are, or fight them and bitch about them all the time, but you’re not going to change the conditions, so you might as well accept them.”
-Annie Dillard on aging, in conversation with David Remnick.


"One could say that the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element of life that never changes. The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch—of the entire universe and all it contains—is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep, without which we would stand still. The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us. Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give a structure to our existence. Almost all the rest is oblivion."
-Jhumpa Lahiri, "Teach Yourself Italian"


"You have done him and his friends harm, in a way, and you jeopardised their health, and now you are so close you feel like you share a heart. He knows your name and you know his, and you almost killed him and, because you got so close to doing so but didn't, you want to fall on him, weeping, because you are so lonely, so lonely always, and all contact is contact, and all contact makes us so grateful we want to cry and dance and cry and cry.
In a moment of clarity, you finally understand why boxers, who want so badly to hurt each other, can rest their heads on the shoulders of their opponents, can lean against one another like tired lovers, so thankful for a moment of peace."
-Dave Eggers, "Accident"


Swimming is the writer’s sport, because it is the sport most like writing. To swim, as to write, is to choose an intense state of socially acceptable aloneness. You can be a serious runner or bicyclist and still have to occasionally nod at a passerby or negotiate traffic. Swimming, however, precludes interaction with the world.
And yet both activities also cultivate a sort of mental busyness: If, say, yoga encourages the absence of thought, swimming encourages its presence. There is no better place to unkink a complicated piece of invented logic than in the water — there is little else to do, in fact, but confront your problems. If you are an open-water swimmer, the sport also demands a particular kind of mental discipline, one in which you must simultaneously indulge your imagination while also asserting control over it. The fear and exhaustion of swimming in the ocean is not struggling against the currents or tide, but the effort it takes to not notice how dark the water beneath you has become, and then, failing that, to assure yourself that it’s only the shadow of a cloud scudding above you. Nowhere but in the sea are you so ceaselessly reminded that something you love so much doesn’t care about you at all.
-Hanya Yanagihara, "A Brisk Swim Across Martha's Vineyard"


"Poets and novelists and playwrights make themselves, against terrible resistances, give over what the rest of us keep safely locked within our hearts."
-Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman
"We choose the dead because of our tie to them, our identification with them. Their helplessness, passivity, vulnerability is our own. We all yearn toward the state of inanition, the condition of harmlessness, where we are perforce lovable and fragile. It is only by a great effort that we rouse ourselves to act, to fight, to struggle, to be heard above the wind, to crush flowers as we walk. To behave like live people."
-Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman


"Writers must labor from a vague feeling, usually some large, old emotion, and in so laboring, come to understand the qualities of that feeling, and the source of it, and the reason they still feel it. That effort is practiced in a place typically insulated from even the idea of publication, and it depends upon a combination of exerting and relaxing one’s will over the writing.

The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job."
-Sarah Manguso,  "Green-Eyed Verbs"


Autobiography is an exercise in self-forgiveness. The observing “I” of autobiography tells the story of the observed “I” not as a journalist tells the story of his subject, but as a mother might. The older narrator looks back at his younger self with tenderness and pity, empathizing with its sorrows and allowing for its sins. I see that my journalist’s habits have inhibited my self-love. Not only have I failed to make my young self as interesting as the strangers I have written about, but I have withheld my affection. In what follows I will try to see myself less coldly, be less fearful of writing a puff piece. But it may be too late to change my spots.
-Janet Malcolm, "Thoughts on Autobiography from an Abandoned Autobiography"


"I am always, and always will be, vulnerable to my own work, because by making visible what is most intimate to me I endow it with the objectivity that forces me to see it with utter, distinct clarity. A strange fate. I make a home for myself in my work, yet when I enter that home I know how flimsy a shelter I have wrought for my spirit. My vulnerability to my own life is irrefutable. Nor do I wish it to be otherwise, as vulnerability is a guardian of integrity."
-Anne Truitt, Turn


"No feeling is quite as unbearable as shame, except perhaps shame mixed with desire. The two emotions seemingly oppose each other. Shame lives in the crouching darkness and holds all of the things we don’t want to look at, all of our youngest, smallest parts. Desire is big and direct and requires us to look at, name, and then draw close to what we want. To be reaching for something that one is also desperately trying to shrink away from, is one of the most confusing and painful of contradictions."
-Amy Gall, An Interview with Garth Greenwell


"As long as we are not provided with a goal worthy of our emptiness we will copy the emptiness of others and constantly regenerate the hell from which we are trying to escape."
-René Girard


"There is a pressure to swim well and to use this water correctly. People think swimming is carefree and effortless. A bath! In fact, it is full of anxieties. Every water has its own rules and offering. Misuse is hard to explain. Perhaps involved is that commonplace struggle to know beauty, to know beauty exactly, to put oneself right in its path, to be in the perfect place to hear the nightingale sing, see the groom kiss the bride, clock the comet. Every water has a right place to be, but that place is in motion. You have to keep finding it, keep having it find you. Your movement sinks into and out of it with each stroke. You can fail it with each stroke. What does that mean, fail it."
"She stands awhile, watching the fox swim, looking back on the day, its images too strong, and yet the soul—how does it ever get peace in its mouth, close its mouth on peace while alive. To be alive is just this pouring in and out. Find, lose, demand, obsess, move head slightly closer. Try to swim without thinking how strong it looks. Try to do what you do without mockery of our heartbroken little era. To mock is easy. She feels a breeze on her forehead, night wind. The fox is stroking splashlessly forward. The fox does not fail."
-Anne Carson, "1=1" 


“How can you be more intimate with the person who pours your drinks than the person who shares your bed, your income, your credit score and life?” I asked her.

“Exactly,” she said. “Real life is hard. It’s the enemy of feeling.”

This seemed the bleakest sort of pronouncement, but I didn’t challenge her on it. I knew what she meant. Marriage, motherhood, daughterhood, siblinghood: They all involve a complex, never-ending web of compromise and negotiation. Friendship, by comparison, feels light and free.

After a while, I came to terms with the fact that my new friend and I wouldn’t be soul mates or BFFs, we wouldn’t text constantly and talk on the phone for hours, make up our own language, or learn to do back handsprings together in the yard. We would be regular, grown-up friends. We would have brief moments of meaningful connection amid long stretches of silence or empty “How’s it going?” back-and-forths. It was a relief, but also, a little bit sad. “What’s the point?” I asked my husband. “Life is too short for small talk and bullshit.”
-Kim Brooks, "I'm Having a Friendship Affair"