Tag Archives: quotations

Do You Ever Get a Huge Pleasure Just From Looking at a Particular Object? What?

“The rack stood as if it had been there forever across the landscape and lit by the sun with its long shadow behind it, and in harmony with every fold of the field and finally turned into a mere form, a primordial form, even if that was not the word I used then, and it gave me huge pleasure just to look at it. I can still feel the same thing today when I see a hayrack in a photograph from a book, but all that is a thing of the past now…so the feeling of pleasure slips into the feeling that time has passed, that it is very long ago, and the sudden feeling of being old.”

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

Have You Ever Lost Your Love for Something–Like the Mountains? Did You Turn Elsewhere?

“I have to admit that, although I do not feel that I myself have changed, my love for the mountains is draining away from me like a wave running backwards down the sand. My thoughts are unchanged, but the mountains have taken leave of me. Their unchanging joys mean less and less to me, so long and so intently have I sought them out….When I climb, it is not among bracken and rock-face, but among the phantoms of my memories….

What attracts me now is the forest.”

Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss

This is a poignant reminder that sometimes we lose our passion for something that once gave us great joy. Perhaps we lose the physical stamina to play tennis, or we weary of needlepoint, or we move to place where gardening isn’t possible.

Or, as has happened to me, we spend enough time on a fascinating subject that we come to the end of it, for ourselves. I experienced this with Churchill. What a joy it was to write Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, my biography of Churchill! What a subject! And yet now, when I see a new Churchill biography in the bookstore, I have no desire to read it. I love to re-read the works that Churchill wrote himself, but I’ve come to the end of his life as a subject for study.

Have you ever left behind one activity or subject you loved? And like Levi-Strauss, were you able to find something else to turn to?

Agree, Disagree? “Those Who Are Not Grateful Soon Begin to Complain of Everything.”

“Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.” 

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

In the United States, we’re approaching the holiday of Thanksgiving — a great reminder to stop and take a moment to be thankful.

In my experience, gratitude does drive out resentment, anger, and annoyance.  And complaining! When I think about how grateful I am that I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I stop grumbling to myself about the fact that I don’t like asparagus.

Do you agree or disagree with Merton?

Did Pablo Picasso Paint Fakes? The Question of Creativity.

For some reason, I keep thinking about a story I read several years ago, in Arthur Koestler’s book, The Act of Creation.

This anecdote caught my attention because it was about a subject that interests me — the mysterious nature of creativity. Plus it had a certain koan-like quality, and boy, do I love a good koan.

This story sounds apocryphal, but Koestler says it’s true:

An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed “Picasso” and travelled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. he cast a single look at the canvas and said: “It’s a fake.”

A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: “It’s a fake.”

“But cher maitre,” expostulated the dealer, “it so happens that I saw you with my own eyes working on this very picture several years ago.”

Picasso shrugged: “I often paint fakes.”

I know this feeling well — the uncomfortable feeling that even though a particular piece of my work is original, it nevertheless feels repetitive, imitative, a perfunctory variation on one of my common themes.

And in other situations, too.  Every time I go clothes-shopping, I’m tempted to buy a black cardigan. How many black cardigans does one person need? Not many.

This is always a warning sign to push myself harder, to break through the familiar to something new.

On the other hand, sometimes I re-visit material (like this very story!) many times, because I get something new from it, each time I think about it. Over time, its significance becomes clearer to me. For instance, I write about my personal commandment to “Be Gretchen,” very often, but every time, it’s new to me. But that’s not true of all subjects.

Do you know this feeling — the feeling of painting your own fake?

Thinking About Paris — and What Churchill Said About London on September 11, 1940.

Like  just about everyone, I’ve been following the horrific events in Paris.

And I keep remembering a speech that Winston Churchill gave — on September 11, 1940.

On that date, which many years later would come to be so significant, Churchill gave a broadcast about the “Blitz,” the brutal nightly bombing of London.

Churchill’s words seemed to have been written for our own times:

These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler’s invasion plans. He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorise and cow the people of this mighty imperial city, and make them a burden and anxiety to the Government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners…who have been bred to value freedom far above their lives. This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatred, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to try to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.

One of the most extraordinary things about New York City in the period after the attack on the World Trade Center was that, despite the shock and devastation, there was a tremendous mood of morale and determination.

As I was researching and writing my biography of Winston Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I was repeatedly struck by how apt his words seemed to be, for other times and circumstances.

What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.”

The image is the One World Trade Center, here in New York City, with its spire lit with the colors of the French flag.