Something hard & glorious

"A first book is a treasure, and all these truths and quasi-truths I have written about publishing are finally ephemeral. An older writer knows what a younger one has not yet learned. What is demanding and fulfilling is writing a single word, trying to write le mot juste, as Flaubert said; writing several of them which becomes a sentence. When a writer does that, day after day, working alone with little encouragement, often with discouragement flowing in the writer’s own blood, and with the occasional rush of excitement that empties oneself, so that the self is for minutes or longer in harmony with eternal astonishments and visions of truth, right there on the page on the desk; and when a writer does this work steadily enough to complete a manuscript long enough to be a book, the treasure is on the desk. If the manuscript itself, mailed out to the world where other truths prevail, is never published, the writer will suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and, more dangerously, despair, convinced that the work was not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk. But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed." -- Andre Dubus


Demonology in Occitan

Via WIkipedia, a delightful excerpt from La covisada (1923) by Henri Gilbert, written in Occitan and followed by its English translation:

"Diablassas, diablàs, diablassonassas, diablassonàs, diablassons, diablassonetas, diablassonetassons, diablassonets, diablassonetons, diables, diablonassas, diablonàs, diablonassonas, diablonassons, diablonassonets, diabletassas, diabletàs, diabletassonas, diabletassons, diabletassonets, diablons, diablets, diablonetassas, diablonetàs, diabletonassas, diabletonàs, diablonetassons, diabletonassons, diablonetassonets, diabletonassonets, diabletons, diablonets e diabletonets, totes correguèron darrèr la pòrta e se i ranquèron."

"Big she-devils, big devils, big little big she-devils, big little big devils, little big devils, tiny little big she-devils, little big tiny little devils, tiny little big devils, little tiny little big devils, devils, big little she-devils, big little devils, little big little she-devils, little big little devils, tiny little big little devils, big she-devils, big devils, little big she-devils, little big devils, tiny little big devils, little devils, tiny devils, big tiny little she-devils, big tiny little devils, big little tiny she-devils, big little tiny devils, little big tiny little devils, little big little tiny devils, tiny little big tiny little devils, tiny little big little tiny devils, little tiny devils, tiny little devils and tiny little tiny devils, all ran to the back of the door and kept it shut."


Paris, Pas Cher?

When in Paris, you do not grump about the Metro, and you do not give up on the Louvre just because your credit card doesn't work with Vélib. You do not forego the wine with the duck confit, should you be so lucky as to still be able, in this saturated-fat-obsessed moment, to eat duck confit, and you absolutely do not fall into a self-admiring reverie -- of your cheapness, no less -- while failing to listen to the organ at Notre Dame.


You might be pennywise, but you're missing the point.


Mark Bernstein at The Atlantic

Mark is pinch-hitting this week for James Fallows at The Atlantic.

Mark blogs the way he cooks, with a flair for improvisation. ( If his blog were a restaurant, it would have a huge open kitchen.) Right now he's down about search-engine optimization, because it threatens to cut off yet another avenue through which chance and improv might, if we were lucky, allow good things to find their way into our writing and research. And indeed there's something scary about a web search that thinks it knows what you want better than you do.

In the kitchen, Mark discovers, the story is both the same and different. Instead of succumbing to despair about SEO, he makes a soup with what's around. This point is crucial. In southern Italy last summer, we ate at a restaurant that operated on the same principle, which meant the offerings were fresh, local, and very limited. But like a sonnet, the limitations of the pantry in its present condition can prove as inspiring as a farmer's market in high summer, or at least more inspiring than the ersatz perpetual farmer's market that is Whole Foods.

Of course, this is allegory. It touches real life only at certain points, and I am choosing those points in order to make a really obvious point: What matters is how we define an "optimal" search result. (And, who gets to define it.)

Just like an allegory, the contents of Mark's fridge point to his preoccupations. His search is already optimized. There's some leftover chicken stock -- the real thing, homemade, sourced from another meal, and they are all memorable. So the stock seems to have not just a history but an identity. But this, too, is a reification, an inadmissible level of search-engine optimization. Like the search engine that knows too much, the stock threatens to ossify, to go right back to bones. So into the pot it goes -- because, as Mark writes, "I am not saving it for a museum."

This is more wit and wisdom than you usually get for free anywhere, on or off the Web, plus he includes a link to a cocktail, known as a Last Word, which sounds about right, and is probably not bad with a cheese sandwich either. Go read the whole thing.


About choice...

" Writers don't choose their craft; they need to write in order to face the world." -- Alice Hoffman



A hopeful moment. Friedman had an interesting take: "In many ways, what we have witnessed in Egypt today is the real decolonization of this country."


My Daughter

She looked so pretty, sitting there in the half-light, writing in her diary, that instead of ordering her to bed as usual, I asked if she wanted a cup of tea.

To my delight, she agreed.