Monthly Archives: May 2014

Marginalia, no.332

The gap between our longings and our rational strategy for living…

~ W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country

So much of life is captured in that half sentence. The human heart is apparently insatiable. I may be perfectly grateful for all that I have and all that I am, but I would like the opportunity to be more grateful still.

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Seeing Things

Ever since the first two protozoa were joined in holy matrimony, husbands have been amazing (and not infrequently aggravating) their wives with their talent for looking directly at an object and yet failing to see it. I know that my own gifts in this department are remarkable. Certainly it was of men and not of women that Jesus spoke when he said in St Matthew’s gospel that “they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”

While it’s possible to look at something without seeing it, it’s also possible to see something without looking at it. I will occasionally set myself the following exercise while staring out the window of my commuter train, stopped at a station, or when standing in a doorway with a view of a room before me: I direct my gaze toward one thing (a cloud, maybe, or a lamp) but purposely neglect it and pay attention instead to the other objects within my field of vision, though they may be out of focus.

Rather than the cloud or the lamp at which I’m looking, I will notice the treetops bobbing in the wind, the figure of a man walking by, the picture hanging on a wall, or the books stacked on a desk. With my eyes still focused elsewhere, I may try to pick out all of the horizontal or the vertical lines, or all the red objects, or the rounded ones. If you are able to do this, congratulate yourself, but don’t expect the world to understand. Any third party observer (your wife, for example, or Jesus) will think you’re simply not paying attention.

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Women's college - Hoboken NJ, 1910

There’s always one that turns aside when the others laugh.

College girls. Hoboken, New Jersey. 1910s.

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Marginalia, no.331

Everybody has his calling, some to plow, some to hoe, and I have mine, which is to blaspheme.

~ Domenico Scandella (1532-1599), under trial by the Inquisition

It’s hard to believe in personal vocations. There are a few persons who seem fated to a particular occupation, but most of us have no real calling. Or if we have a calling, it has nothing to do with how we earn our bread. It’s calling enough, I think, to love those we’re given to love, to try to be good, to keep wondering at things.

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Marginalia, no.330

What, after all, is a sunset without the clouds? A bright ball disappearing behind a line, that’s what.

~ Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide

The word “sunset” – evocative, redolent of poetry – must be a relic of the geocentric universe. We understand now that it describes an almost imaginary phenomenon, a trick of perspective. The sun never really sets, or else it’s perpetually setting and rising at the same time, which is saying the same thing. It’s a testimony either to our poverty of imagination or to our prudent restraint that we’ve never, in our enlightened era, seen fit to replace the word.

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Marginalia, no.329

I knew one man who was arrested as a runaway lunatic, because, although a full grown person with a red beard, he skipped as he went like a child.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘Walking Tours’

If only it were that easy. I own a large rubber crow mask which I bought with the vague idea that I might wear it at the office and so compel the company to lay me off. Then, finally, I could begin to live. But I tried it the other day and only narrowly escaped promotion.

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Persons interested in acquiring a case of Foreign Accent Syndrome may wish to read my post today at The Dabbler.

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