Dept. of Homeland Insecurities

Peter #Matthiessen finback whale skull

Down among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has-beens and the might’ve-beens and the would-bes and the never-wills and the God-knows-whats, I have always felt at home.

—Joseph Mitchell

There is a place on earth that is a vast desolate wilderness, a place populated by shadows of the dead in their multitudes, a place where the living are dead, where only death, hate and pain exist.

—Giuliana Tedeschi, “There Is A Place On Earth: A Woman in Birkenau”

But I don’t sit down and think greatly about any human emotions when I write. It’s all about—the woman’s walking out of a cornfield, and far behind her is a burning house. And she walks out of a cornfield and the front of her dress is bloody, and she is holding a gun. She walks up to the door of another house. And the sense the reader should have is that this is not her house. But she doesn’t knock, she simply opens the door. For me, because I’m a movie person, it’s about what you can see. The emotions will just flow from that. What is this all about—the gun, the blood, the burning house in back of her, and the house that’s not hers in front of her?

—Edward P. Jones @parisreview

When I start writing a novel, I never know much about the plot, and certainly not the ending. I simply have an idea, or an image, or a sentence that has been lurking for a while. So I suppose my first sentences have to be interesting and appealing enough to lead me down the path they reveal. I very much decide things on the spot, I improvise a lot. But, once I make a decision, I almost never go back on it. I stick to what I said on page 10, even if on page 200 I discover that it would have been easier to say something different on page 10. I realize this is absurd—and perhaps suicidal—but I apply to my novels the same principle of knowledge that rules life: at 40 you may wish you had made a different decision when you were 20, but you can’t go back. Well, in my novels it is the same. The funny thing is that many critics have pointed out that, often, on my very first page, there is a sort of “summary” of the whole novel. But, as I have said many times before, I don’t have a map when I write, just a compass. So I know I am heading “north,” as it were, but not the way I will get there.

Javier Marías

I wonder if you’re like me, if you collect and squirrel away in your soul certain odd moments when the Mystery winks at you, when you walk in your bathrobe and tasselled loafers, for instance, well out of your neighborhood and among a lot of closed shops, and you approach your very faint reflection in a window with words above it. The sign said “Sky and Celery.” Closer, it read “Ski and Cyclery.”

I headed home.

—Denis Johnson, “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”

Nothing’s calculated like—calculated. It’s accumulated. Then I consider the material, and turn it every possible way over a period of years, and then, one day, it’s over. T. S. Eliot spoke of making “quasi-musical decisions.” That’s how I’d put it, too. Do you know the Billy Strayhorn composition “Lush Life”? The way this story unstrings itself reminds me of “Lush Life.”

—Denis Johnson newyorker

#JasperJohns, Untitled (2013)

There is a power at the center of our being, at the heart of all things living. But only in man does it assume a spiritual character. And only through spirit does life continue by decision…But this answer only points to a deeper question. Perhaps we shall not fathom the wonder of life at its roots, or discern how strength can rest on such frail foundations. Only within the last hundred years have the biological sciences begun to formulate objectively what might be meant by ‘life in itself’…but already we can grasp some part, at least, of what the survivor’s experience reveals: that whether felt as a power, or observed as a system of activities, life is existence laboring to sustain itself, repairing, defending, healing.

—Terrence Des Pres

“When all music is available to everybody all the time, first of all, there can be no sense of something radically new and, second, you may never have the capacity to focus and concentrate yourself, a process which requires really filtering out a lot of noise in order to see the urgency of any particular utterance.”

—Richard Powers

When you’re drunk it’s so much fun—
Your stories don’t make sense.
An early fall has strung
The elms with yellow flags.

—Anna Akhmatova
#Gowanus #Brooklyn

If you know what you’re going to write then that’s death for me, then nothing is happening. If I plan something it’s just dead. And almost everything I write is dead in that sense really, but if I speed up then something, all of a sudden, is happening because I can no longer control it.
—Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…

—Walt Whitman