back soon, with wisdoms and realisations...
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
missed, but never forgotten... my love for maya is eternal and i'm grateful and fortunate for her words...
“Life loves the liver of it. You must live and life will be good to you.”
The light of the world has grown a little dimmer with the loss of the phenomenal Maya Angelou, but her legacy endures as a luminous beacon of strength, courage, and spiritual beauty. Angelou’s timeless wisdom shines with unparalleled light in a 1977 interview by journalist Judith Rich, found in Conversations with Maya Angelou (public library) — the same magnificent tome that gave us the beloved author’s conversation with Bill Moyers on freedom — in which Angelou explores issues of identity and the meaning of life.
Reflecting on her life, Angelou — who rose to cultural prominence through the sheer tenacity of her character and talent, despite being born into a tumultuous working-class family, abandoned by her father at the age of three, and raped at the age of eight — tells Rich:
I’ve been very fortunate… I seem to have a kind of blinkers. I just do not allow too many negatives to soil me. I’m very blessed. I have looked quite strange in most of the places I have lived in my life, the stages, spaces I’ve moved through. I of course grew up with my grandmother: my grandmother’s people and my brother are very very black, very lovely. And my mother’s people were very very fair. I was always sort of in between. I was too tall. My voice was too heavy. My attitude was too arrogant — or tenderhearted. So if I had accepted what people told me I looked like as a negative yes, then I would be dead. But I accepted it and I thought, well, aren’t I the lucky one.
She later revisits the question of identity, echoing Leo Buscaglia’s beautiful meditation on labels, as she reflects on the visibility her success granted her and the responsibility that comes with it:
What I represent in fact, what I’m trying like hell to represent every time I go into that hotel room, is myself. That’s what I’m trying to do. And I miss most of the time on that: I do not represent blacks or tall women, or women or Sonomans or Californians or Americans. Or rather I hope I do, because I am all those things. But that is not all that I am. I am all of that and more and less. People often put labels on people so they don’t have to deal with the physical fact of those people. It’s easy to say, oh, that’s a honkie, that’s a Jew, that’s a junkie, or that’s a broad, or that’s a stud, or that’s a dude. So you don’t have to think: does this person long for Christmas? Is he afraid that the Easter bunny will become polluted? … I refuse that… I simply refuse to have my life narrowed and proscribed.
To be sure, beneath Angelou’s remarkable optimism and dignity lies the strenuous reality she had to overcome. Reflecting on her youth, she channels an experience all too familiar to those who enter life from a foundation the opposite of privilege:
It’s very hard to be young and curious and almost egomaniacally concerned with one’s intelligence and to have no education at all and no direction and no doors to be open… To go figuratively to a door and find there’s no doorknob.
And yet Angelou acknowledges with great gratitude the kindness of those who opened doors for her in her spiritual and creative journey. Remembering the Jewish rabbi who offered her guidance in faith and philosophy and who showed up at her hospital bedside many years later after a serious operation, Angelou tells Rich:
The kindnesses … I never forget them. And so they keep one from becoming bitter. They encourage you to be as strong, as volatile as necessary to make a well world. Those people who gave me so much, and still give me so much, have a passion about them. And they encourage the passion in me. I’m very blessed that I have a healthy temper. I can become quite angry and burning in anger, but I have never been bitter. Bitterness is a corrosive, terrible acid. It just eats you and makes you sick.
At the end of the interview, Angelou reflects on the meaning of life — a meditation all the more poignant as we consider, in the wake of her death, how beautifully she embodied the wisdom of her own words:
I’ve always had the feeling that life loves the liver of it. You must live and life will be good to you, give you experiences. They may not all be that pleasant, but nobody promised you a rose garden. But more than likely if you do dare, what you get are the marvelous returns. Courage is probably the most important of the virtues, because without courage you cannot practice any of the other virtues, you can’t say against a murderous society, I oppose your murdering. You got to have courage to do so. I seem to have known that a long time and found great joy in it.
The totality of Conversations with Maya Angelou is a powerful portal into the beloved writer’s soul. Complement it with Angelou on home, belonging, and (not) growing up, her children’s verses about courage illustrated by Basquiat, and her breathtaking reading of “Phenomenal Woman.”
relating and referencing... where is amelia??
“I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.”
Charles Darwin gleefully weighed the pros and cons of marriage, ultimately deciding in its favor, while Susan Sontag called it “an institution committed to the dulling of the feelings.” But marriage, of course, is like most things in life — all else being equal, you get out of it exactly what you put in.
Amelia Earhart — pioneering aviator, bestselling author, and one altogether fierce lady — must have known that when she sat down on the morning of February 7th, 1931, and penned this exacting, resolute letter to her publicist and future husband, George Putnam. Found in the out-of-print volume Letters from Amelia, 1901-1937 (public library), it spells out (typo notwithstanding) exactly what Earhart wanted — and didn’t want — in a marriage, a bold testament to her independent spirit and liberal mindset just before the golden age of the housewife and shortly after the era of Victorian sexism.
ConnecticutThe Square House
Church StreetDear GPPThere are some things which should be writ before we are married — things we have talked over before — most of them.You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead.On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.A.E.
The two married that afternoon. Putnam had proposed six times before Earhart finally said her highly conditional “yes.” She kept her last name and refused to be called Mrs. Putnam, even against The New York Times’ insistence. They remained together until Earhart’s tragic disappearance in 1937.
Sunday, 11 May 2014
the world is getting smaller and life is getting nearer to the demise, so what have we learned so far?
it is sunday.
it is may, with scattered showers and rays and sometimes, at the same time, the sky plays hide and seek with the clouds.
in london, uk.
the fight continues and it's all very exciting indeed...
and... i'll be back...
it is sunday.
it is may, with scattered showers and rays and sometimes, at the same time, the sky plays hide and seek with the clouds.
in london, uk.
the fight continues and it's all very exciting indeed...
and... i'll be back...
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
“…and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads.”
What makes an extraordinary love letter? After Monday’s omnibus of famous correspondence, I revisited a lovely decade-old book titled The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, which features missives from icons like Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Frida Kahlo, Franz Kafka, and Mozart, covering everything from tender love to lust to bitter breakups.
Among them is this 1927 letter from Virginia Woolf to English poet Vita Sackville-West, with whom Woolf had fallen madly in love.
Look here Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads — They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.”
The gender-bending character in Woolf’s Orlando, in fact, was based on Sackville-West, and the entire novel is thought to have been written about the affair — so much so that Sackville-West’s son Nigel Nicolson has described it as “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.”
The greatest love letters, of course, aren’t those written for public greatness — they’re the ones penned for one particular trembling heart, honeycombed with private memories and private miracles, written in the language of the possible.
Monday, 18 November 2013
“Everyone writes a letter in the virtual image of his own soul. In every other form of speech it is possible to see the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as in the letter.”
My great-grandfather was an astronomer who used to excitedly awaken his kids in the middle of the night and rush them, barely conscious and begrudging, to his telescope on the roof to observe the occasional cosmic marvel. He raised two sons and two daughters — including my grandmother, after whom I was named — through wartime Bulgaria, and tickled them into that lifelong itch of curiosity and wonder. In his final years, great-grandfather Georgi was living by himself in a small apartment without so much as a landline, hundreds of miles away from my grandmother, who by then was raising a family of her own while working as one of the few female civic engineers in the country. When he fell gravely ill in May of 1984, he wrote my grandmother a letter to tell her about the fatal medical prognosis and mailed it across the country. But he made a mistake — on the envelope, addressed to the correct building, he wrote “apartment 2″ instead of “apartment 5,” so the letter never made it to my grandmother. She got news of her father’s death in early June, from one of her brothers. Six weeks later, she found the letter in the building’s shared mailbox, the ghostly neverland of misdeliveries that residents rarely checked.
A week after that, I was born.
I never met my great-grandfather, whom I imagine I would’ve admired and loved enormously, but my grandmother’s heartbreaking story of postal misfortune, which she only recently shared with me and which pains her to this day, left me newly shaken with the power of so seemingly simple a thing as a letter — a medium that’s always held enormous allure for me, a humble page that blossoms into a grand stage onto which great romances are played out,great wisdom dispensed, and great genius manifested. But what exactly is it about a letter that reaches such depths, and what ineffable, immutable piece of humanity are we losing as the golden age of writing letters sets into the digital horizon?
That’s precisely what Simon Garfield, who has previously explored how our modern obsession with maps was born, seeks to illuminate in To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing (public library) — a quest to understand what we have lost by replacing letter-writing with email-typing and relinquishing “the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers,” considering “the value we place on literacy, good thinking and thinking ahead.”
Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deepen understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewire history. The world once used to run upon their transmission — the lubricant of human interaction and the freefall of ideas, the silent conduit of the worthy and the incidental, the time we were coming for dinner, the account of our marvelous day, the weightiest joys and sorrows of love. It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept aside. A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen.
Garfield attributes a good deal of the humanity of the letter — something he so poetically terms its “physical candor and the life-as-she-is-suffered quality” — to the tangibility of how it travels from sender to recipient. Though we know a great more today about how information travels on the internet, Garfield argues for an “intrinsic integrity” that letters hold over other modes of communication and explains:
Some of this has to do with the application of hand to paper, or the rolling of the paper through the typewriter, the effort to get things right first time, the perceptive gathering of purpose. But I think it also has something to do with the mode of transmission, the knowledge of what happens to the letter when sealed. We know where to post it, roughly when it will be collected, the fact that it will be dumped from a bag, sorted, delivered to a van, train or similar, and then the same thing the other end in reverse. We have no idea about where email goes when we hit send. We couldn’t track the journey even if we cared to; in the end, it’s just another vanishing. No one in a stinky brown work coat wearily answers the phone at the dead email office. If it doesn’t arrive we just send it again. But it almost always arrives, with no essence of human journey at all. The ethereal carrier is anonymous and odorless, and carries neither postmark nor scuff nor crease. The woman goes into a box and emerges unblemished. The toil has gone, and with it some of the rewards.
Although much of his argument is premised on these romanticized rewards that stem from the letter’s traditional form — arguments not entirely convincing beyond the automatic sentimentality of nostalgia — Garfield makes his strongest point perhaps inadvertently, in an aside, discussing the letters of 14th-century scholar Petrarch, which used to run over a thousand words. Those letters, Garfield notes, were “not only readable but still worth reading” — and therein lies the bittersweet mesmerism of the letter as a cultural genre: With the ease and rapidity of email, how much of our textual exchanges actually end up being truly worth reading? Rereading?
But the best, most eloquent articulation of just what makes the letter worthy comes from one of Garfield’s ancient-world epistolary champions. Demetrius, who lived sometime between the fourth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D., captured the essence of the perfect letter:
The letter should be a little more formal than the dialogue, since the latter imitates improvised conversation, while the former is written and sent as a kind of gift. . . . The letter should be strong in characterization. Everyone writes a letter in the virtual image of his own soul. In every other form of speech it is possible to see the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as in the letter.
Garfield’s core argument, while anchored a tad too stubbornly and narrowly to the preservation of letters as a medium, speaks powerfully to a broader urgency — the increasingly endangered species of meticulous, thoughtful self-revelation and deep mutual understanding through the written word in the age of reactionary responses and knee-jerk replies. He captures this beautifully:
Great miserabilist that he was, Philip Larkin was spot-on with his famous line from ‘An Arundel Tomb’ … what will survive of us is love. Letters fulfill and safeguard this prophecy. Without letters we risk losing sight of our history, or at least its nuance. The decline and abandonment of letters — the price of progress — will be an immeasurable defeat.
To the Letter goes on to explore the history of letters and the humanity of letter-writing across the millennia, from ancient Greece to the Enlightenment to the invention and advent of the internet, covering the entire spectrum of genres from sales letters to love letters and exploring the intricacies of what makes a perfect letter. Complement it with this fantastic 1876 guide to the art of letter-writing, then revisit some of modern history’s most rereadable letters.
“Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain.”
Mexican painter and reconstructionist Frida Kahlo is among the most remarkable figures of contemporary culture. At a young age, she contracted polio, which left her right leg underdeveloped — an imperfection she’d later come to disguise with her famous colorful skirts. A decade later, as one of only thirty-five female students at Mexico’s prestigious Preparatoria school, she was in a serious traffic accident, which resulted in multiple body fractures and internal lesions inflicted by an iron rod that had pierced her stomach and uterus. It took her three months in full-body cast to recover and though she eventually willed her way to walking again, she spent the rest of her life battling frequent relapses of extreme pain and enduring frequent hospital visits, including more than thirty operations. As a way of occupying herself while bedridden, Kahlo made her first strides in painting — then went on to become one of the most influential painters in modern art.
Two years after the accident, in 1927, she met the painter Diego River, whose work she’d come to admire and who became her mentor. In 1929, despite the vocal protestations of Kahlo’s mother, Frida and Diego were wedded and one of art history’s most notoriously tumultuous marriages commenced. Both had multiple affairs, the most notable of which for bisexual Kahlo were with French singer, dancer, and actress Josephine Baker and Russian Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky. And yet her bond with Diego was one of transcendental passion and immense love.
Kahlo’s love letters to Rivera, found in The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (public library) and stretching across the twenty-seven-years span of their relationship, bespeak the profound and abiding connection the two shared, brimming with the seething cauldron of emotion with which all fully inhabited love is filled: elation, anguish, devotion, desire, longing, joy. In their breathless intensity, they soar in the same stratosphere of love letters as those exchanged between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, and Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.F.
Diego:Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. the dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.
Auxochrome — Chromophore. Diego.She who wears the color.
He who sees the color.
Since the year 1922.Until always and forever. Now in 1944. After all the hours lived through. The vectors continue in their original direction. Nothing stops them. With no more knowledge than live emotion. With no other wish than to go on until they meet. Slowly. With great unease, but with the certainty that all is guided by the “golden section.” There is cellular arrangement. There is movement. There is light. All centers are the same. Folly doesn’t exist. We are the same as we were and as we will be. Not counting on idiotic destiny.
My Diego:Mirror of the nightYour eyes green swords inside my flesh. waves between our hands.All of you in a space full of sounds — in the shade and in the light. You were called AUXOCHROME the one who captures color. I CHROMOPHORE — the one who gives color.You are all the combinations of numbers. life. My wish is to understand lines form shades movement. You fulfill and I receive. Your word travels the entirety of space and reaches my cells which are my stars then goes to yours which are my light.
Auxochrome — ChromophoreIt was the thirst of many years restrained in our body. Chained words which we could not say except on the lips of dreams. Everything was surrounded by the green miracle of the landscape of your body. Upon your form, the lashes of the flowers responded to my touch, the murmur of streams. There was all manner of fruits in the juice of your lips, the blood of the pomegranate, the horizon of the mammee and the purified pineapple. I pressed you against my breast and the prodigy of your form penetrated all my blood through the tips of my fingers. Smell of oak essence, memories of walnut, green breath of ash tree. Horizon and landscapes = I traced them with a kiss. Oblivion of words will form the exact language for understanding the glances of our closed eyes. = You are here, intangible and you are all the universe which I shape into the space of my room. Your absence springs trembling in the ticking of the clock, in the pulse of light; you breathe through the mirror. From you to my hands, I caress your entire body, and I am with you for a minute and I am with myself for a moment. And my blood is the miracle which runs in the vessels of the air from my heart to yours.The green miracle of the landscape of my body becomes in your the whole of nature. I fly through it to caress the rounded hills with my fingertips, my hands sink into the shadowy valleys in an urge to possess and I’m enveloped in the embrace of gentle branches, green and cool. I penetrate the sex of the whole earth, her heat chars me and my entire body is rubbed by the freshness of the tender leaves. Their dew is the sweat of an ever-new lover.It’s not love, or tenderness, or affection, it’s life itself, my life, that I found what I saw it in your hands, in your month and in your breasts. I have the taste of almonds from your lips in my mouth. Our worlds have never gone outside. Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain.Your presence floats for a moment or two as if wrapping my whole being in an anxious wait for the morning. I notice that I’m with you. At that instant still full of sensations, my hands are sunk in oranges, and my body feels surrounded by your arms.
For my Diegothe silent life giver of worlds, what is most important is the nonillusion. morning breaks, the friendly reds, the big blues, hands full of leaves, noisy birds, fingers in the hair, pigeons’ nests a rare understanding of human struggle simplicity of the senseless song the folly of the wind in my heart = don’t let them rhyme girl = sweet xocolatl [chocolate] of ancient Mexico, storm in the blood that comes in through the mouth — convulsion, omen, laughter and sheer teeth needles of pearl, for some gift on a seventh of July, I ask for it, I get it, I sing, sang, I’ll sing from now on our magic — love.
Pair The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait with more exquisite love letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Balzac, Rilke, and Eleanor Roosevelt.