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                                            Unlike trees
or animals, we humans have to gather
to be real. When we’re together, we look
like more than shadows, we look true, we look like we could last
much longer than the fleeting lapse we really do.

Claudia Masin, “Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf”, in Intact, translated by Robin Myers

Perhaps this is why psychologist D. W. Winnicott’s notion of “feeling real” is so moving to me. One can aspire to feel real, one can help others to feel real, and one can oneself feel real—a feeling Winnicott describes as the collected, primary sensation of aliveness, “the aliveness of the body tissues and working of body-functions, including the heart’s action and breathing,” which makes spontaneous gesture possible. For Winnicott, feeling real is not reactive to external stimuli, nor is it an identity. It is a sensation—a sensation that spreads. Among other things, it makes one want to live.

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Living alone, absolutely alone. Boredom doesn’t happen. Not loneliness in the usual sense. Only the tension, the tempo, the rhythm goes out—and that is enough. Life becomes a slack sail.

Patricia Highsmith, 15 November 1951, in Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941–1995, edited by Anna von Planta

You’ve punctured my solitude, I told you. It had been a useful solitude, constructed, as it was, around a recent sobriety, long walks to and from the Y through the sordid, bougainvillea-stewn back streets of Hollywood, evening drives up and down Mulholland to kill the long nights, and, of course, maniacal bouts of writing, learning to address no one. But the time for its puncturing had come. I feel I can give you everything without giving myself away, I whispered in your basement bed. If one does one’s solitude right, this is the prize.

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Gabriel Marcel says that the artist who labors to produce effects for which he is well known is unfaithful to himself. This may seem obvious enough when it is badly stated: but how differently we act. We are all too ready to believe that the self we have created out of our more or less inauthentic efforts to be real in the eyes of others is a “real self.” We even take it for our identity. Fidelity to such a nonidentity is of course infidelity to our real person, which is hidden in mystery. Who will you find that has enough faith and self-respect to attend to this mystery and to begin by accepting himself as unknown? God help the man who thinks he knows all about himself.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Contact with others is what heals,
what sickens, the sun
encircled by the lonely planet
of ourselves, caught in the orbit
of the light or shadow as they draw
their heat toward us or away, as if we were
the dust kicked up by some other existence, the wake
churned at the source, the indissoluble bond we were supposed to renounce
but which awoke again each time we loved
another body. You hoped I’d write the words
that can do what music does:
step through the silence without harming it, be
part of it, and of the things that can’t be said,
the things we can’t even approach without
them darting away from us. I told you there’s nothing
like music but touch
and being touched, the particles
that meet and fuse and sometimes scrape against each other and
cause pain, and pull away, sometimes one explodes
inside the other, because there’s neither surface
nor interior: the inside is the same as out.

Claudia Masin, “The Silent Touch”, in Intact, translated by Robin Myers

A Thousand Thoughts, a thousand questions, mine, yours, ours, theirs, questions that perhaps open up things that definitive answers would only nail shut. Kronos Quartet’s long trajectory offers a series of questions that are solid and answers that elusive: How do you find a path between predictability and stability? How do you have both a clear identity and an open door that lets in new ideas and collaborators? How do you make an art that grows like a tree, ring by ring, year by year, and stands as a testament? How do you keep it alive through all the changes, and how do you incorporate the change that is, as my photographic collaborator Mark Klett likes to say, the measure of time? Or how do you proceed as Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi said in some instructions for Zen Buddhist practice, “not too tight, not too loose,” not so tied by custom and convention and the past, not so formless that you lurch and spill into whatever the present offers?

Rebecca Solnit, program note for Kronos Quartet and Sam Green, A Thousand Thoughts

Days may be where we live, but mornings are eternity.
They wake us, and every day waking is absurdity;
All the things you just did yesterday to do over again, eternally.

The clench of tonsil on extra tonsil is an oyster only once,
Once, the blood and itch of broken skin, and afterwards indifference.
The boredom of the weeping aromatic bedsores only once.

But, forever fumbling for the snooze button, the gym is there
Forever, and the teeth silt over yellow to be flossed, and there
Will be, in eternity, coffee to be brewed and that moment in the shower
When you open your mouth and rhotacise the water and just stand there,
Stupid bliss of hot water, tongue-tingling, steaming the shower.

Hannah Sullivan, “Repeat Until Time”, in Three Poems

Words say, Misspell and misspell your name
Words say, Leave this life

From the singer streams of color
but from you

a room within a smaller room
habits of opposite and alcove

Eros seated on a skull as on a throne
Words say, Timaeus you are time

A page is edging along a string
Never sleep never dream in this place

And altered words say
O is the color of this name

full of broken tones
silences we mean to cross one day

Michael Palmer, “Baudelaire Series”, in Sun

In the cybersecurity world, a database engineer inadvertently finding a backdoor in a core Linux feature is a little like a bakery worker who smells a freshly baked loaf of bread, senses something is off and correctly deduces that someone has tampered with the entire global yeast supply. It’s the kind of intuition that requires years of experience and obsessive attention to detail, plus a healthy dose of luck.

Kevin Roose, “Did One Guy Just Stop a Huge Cyberattack?”

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out—since our self-image is untenable—their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gift for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course we will play Francesca to Paolo, Brett Ashley to Jake, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no rôle too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we can not but hold in contempt, we play rôles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the necessity of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.

Joan Didion, “Self-Respect”

To read Heisenberg, Kant, or Borges—or, for that matter, Dostoevsky—is to be dumbfounded by the breadth of knowledge that was once expected of intellectuals (Heisenberg once claimed “that one could hardly make progress in modern atomic physics without a knowledge of Greek natural philosophy”), and it’s clear that the ability to think and express themselves in broad, analogical strokes deepened their work. On the Mindscape podcast, [William] Egginton noted that after spending half his career writing scholarly books that were read only by colleagues and graduate students, he found popular writing to be a revelation—not because it was easier but because it demanded more rigorous thought. “And then it began to seem to me that some of my past writing was relying on, say, jargon,” he said, “or skipping steps in thinking through a problem by using a kind of shorthand that I felt that my colleagues and students would totally understand but that we hadn’t necessarily really thought through.”

Meghan O’Gieblyn, “The Trouble with Reality”