Ursula K. Le Guin on the power of imagination.

aster_hung

From a fascinating New Yorker article about the prolific fantasy and sci fi author as she approaches her ninth decade of life comes this perfect quote:

“Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”

Please inscribe this on my gravestone. Or maybe I should tattoo it on the inside of my eyelids as a reminder to open them every once in a while.

More bits and bobbins from her fertile brain can be found here.

Image by Aster Hung. See more of her creepy-pretty paintings on her website. 

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Two nice things: Writer’s block edition.

Frances Stark_why_write1. This piece by L.A.-based artist Frances Stark really speaks to some of the frustration I’ve been feeling recently with my own work. I don’t get writer’s block often, and I don’t often call it “writer’s block” (I usually just say I’m being lazy) but man, does this image hit the nail on its nasty little head. Why should you not be able to assemble yourself, Katy? (See more of Stark’s “trashy collage” aesthetic on Art Forum.)

2. Wet, Wet, always Wet. This indie pop band is just so freaking good, but this lyric is pure truth: “Some days just aren’t good for anything at all. Feel all those feelings but don’t make that call.” Listen to the song (which is fantastic and dreamy and upbeat and pensive at once) here. 

Why I read, why I write: Erica Jong edition.

Aleksandra Waliszewska

Beware of books. They are more than innocent assemblages of paper and ink and string and glue. If they are any good, they have the spirit of the author within. Authors are rogues and ruffians and easy lays. They are gluttons for sweets and savories. They devour life and always want more. They have sap, spirit, sex. Books are panderers. The Jews are not wrong to worship books. A real book has pheromones and sprouts grass through its cover.  – Erica Jong

A very close friend recently told me that she finds my writing to be extremely tactile and sensory. That made my day. I have been told that my writing can be very physical before, that it oozes a little. Once, a copyeditor pointed out that my description of white water rafting sounded a bit too much like a description of rough sex. While I was mildly embarrassed (and pretty amused), I have to admit I was also a little proud. It wasn’t the effect I was going for (I was aiming for adrenaline and I guess I overshot!) but I think the slightly-sexual-ness comes from an interesting place. When I read for pleasure, I am drawn to writers who make everything feel sexy and alive and real. I admire prose that makes my stomach churn and my spine tingle.

Here’s something I’ve come to realize about myself: I want to viscerally connect with everything. People, places, animals, buildings. You name it, and I probably want to touch/taste/feel/smell it. I want this impulse to translate into something more than just a desire for experience, and sometimes I think it does (other times I think I’m just a glutton for novelty). I think, with a little more rigor, I can shape that into something worth reading. I want to pull out my guts and assemble them on paper, blood staining white to red, hands messy with the effort. And to be totally honest, I’m just practicing right now, on this blog. This is where I play around with words. It’s where I hone my skills and sharpen my knives. (So thank you for reading, because every page view makes my effort feel WORTH IT in a very real way.)

Today, I feel inspired by the work of Erica Jong, who makes me want to be a better writer and person. I’m inspired by my friend, Sophie, who gave me that lovely compliment mentioned above. (If I write from the gut, Sophie writes from the heart, and her heart is a compassionate, fierce, and beautiful place.) Finally, I’m inspired by Aleksandra Waliszewska. She makes art that is outlandish, pagan, brutal, and just a little bit pretty. For me, she strikes all the right notes in perfect order. Check out her stuff, and see if you agree.

“Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.”

werner herzog bearWerner Herzog is one of my favorite filmmakers. Happy People, his movie about life in Siberia, with all its hardships and stark, hard beauty, is one of my all-time, desert-island favorites.

Today I stumbled across this gem from back in the day: “24 pieces of advice from Werner Herzog for filmmakers.” I don’t agree with every single one—”take revenge if need be,” for example—but I adore his badass worldview. Here are a few of my favorite bits:

  • Always take the initiative.
  • Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
  • Learn to live with your mistakes.
  • Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
  • Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
  • Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
  • Don’t be fearful of rejection.
  • Thwart institutional cowardice.
  • Get used to the bear behind you.

Read the whole list here.

A little reminder of what’s important.

stuart little

“How many of you know what’s important?”

Up went all the hands.

“Very good,” said Stuart, cocking one leg across the other and shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what is important.”

“A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy,” answered Henry.

“Correct,” said Stuart. “Those are the important things. You forgot one thing, though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?”

“He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it,” said Mary quickly.

“Exactly,” said Stuart. “Ice cream is important.”

— Stuart Little, E.B. White

Calling something a “kid’s book” or “children’s literature” should be the highest compliment. After all, I don’t know anything that taught me so much about bravery and kindness as spending time with Lewis Carroll and E.B. White and Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl. Kid’s books are brilliant. And sometimes, kids are brilliant, like little Mary and Henry, who answered Stuart’s question just right.

Plus, it’s worth nothing that E.B. White had an awesome sense of humor in his everyday interactions, too. Just look at how he turned down a rather impressive offer from an earlier POTUS: Continue reading

Two nice things: a poem by Colleen McElroy and the fantastical photography of Cig Harvey.

cig_Harvey_TheBluebird

Sometimes the Way It Rains Reminds Me of You
Colleen J. McElroy

these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away   the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle   a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if dowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome

Read that poem aloud. It is so beautiful—both in the lyrical language and the subject matter (I would like my life to smell like rain and pine and moss, please and thank you). Then, go look at these stunning images by Maine photographer Cig Harvey. Although we live in the same state, and have contributed to the same publications, I’ve never worked with Harvey. So far, I’ve just admired her work from a distance. Her photographs are rich with surreal, subtle magic. I dig it.

Jenny Slate is a wise little chicken.

jenny slate is my hero
I
 fell in love with Jenny Slate in the brilliant indie movie Obvious Child. After the credits rolled and I finished drying my leaky eyes, I went back and rewatched all the Marcel the Shell videos before falling down the YouTube rabbit hole of Slate appearances. Obsessed is far too strong a term, but I do really admire this lady. Especially since all her interviews make her sound warm, funny, kind, thoughtful, and fascinating. Check out this little nugget of wisdom from a recent article in Rookie mag:

The goal should be that when you’re on your death bed, lying next to your body [there] is another beautiful body that isn’t physical, only you see it, and that body is your body of work. That to me is very comforting and exciting to imagine sometimes–who’s lying next to me when I’m dying? There’s me, my husband, and who’s on the other side of me as my body of work? What does she look like? Is it even me, is it even a woman, or is it an animal? A lot of times it’s an animal. [Laughs]

Your body of work doesn’t need to be seen by others, necessarily. It just needs to be yours, and to be beautiful to you, and to be something you love. I can’t help but imagine my body of work as a large, skinny-legged dog with gray hair and a wild streak. But who knows? Maybe my body of work will change, and someday I’ll find myself in bed with a kind old Garrett and an invisible giraffe with black hooves and brown eyes.

But Jenny knows she’s not there yet (and obviously, neither am I). When asked, “What stage of your career are you currently at?” she replies:

Hmm…building? I would say that if I was a chicken, I would have hatched out of the egg, but still have a little bit of egg goop on me. I don’t look like a [grown] chicken yet, but I’m almost to a fluffy, yellow chick [and] a little bit dirty, still. In a few years I’ll be a fluffy chick, then a slightly larger fluffy chick hanging out with a lamb, but I don’t think I’ll be the chicken until I’m 60 years old. Then I’ll be, like, the chicken. Right now, I’m still hurting my little foot by stepping on a bit of shell.

I look at Jenny Slate and I think: What a successful, put-together person. She sees herself as a chicken stepping on shells (side note: girl has a way with similes). It’s all so relative. I have time to shape my skinny dog still.