“Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree…”
- Nietzsche, via Brain Pickings
Writing prompt: write a poem that involves or arises from a bus journey. The poem should remain rooted in that journey, but can use that journey as a lens through to make comment on some larger experience.
(follow the link for further inspiration)
This is my iPhone. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Dead iPhone day, today. It’s been acting up for a while— crashing and rebooting itself a good few times a day. Yesterday it got into some kind of reboot loop where it would restart every 5 minutes or so. Lovely. This morning, I managed to keep it alive for long enough to see that iOS8.1 had been released, and even long enough to download the update, hoping that would fix my ills. But I fell foul of the update process, and ended up having to “restore” — return to factory defaults.
Last backup? About a month ago. Any way to recover without restoring? Possibly, but the pain it would take… I decided it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to wipe the slate clean and start again. Set the thing up as a brand new iPhone.
It’s amazing how much we come to depend on these tools, these devices. My phone is a communication device (text, audio, video, still image), it’s my primary camera, my health/fitness tracker, my mindfulness buddy, my “first-in-hand” information access point…
I’ve already installed the apps that were instantly conspicuous by their absence: Fantastical, Accompli, Drafts, Soundcloud, Casts, Google Now, Google Maps, Reporter, Moves, Up, Daily Tracker, Instagram, VSCOcam, Pocket, Evernote, Dropbox, 1Password, TextExpander, Blinkist, Buffer and Evershaker (and yes, that list doesn’t cover even half of what I had on the phone before now). Most of these apps have some kind of “back up to cloud” capability built in (it’s one of the criteria I consider for apps that I really depend on). That said, I know I’ve got a period of inconvenience ahead— half-remembered passwords to reset, settings to tweak and all those myriad other adjustments that make this particular iPhone 5 mine. But you know what? It’s okay. It’s easy to get to a point where you take your gear for granted.
Funny how these devices are so ubiquitous now— the way you might reach for someone else’s phone until you thumb it to life and realise, by the image you’ve chosen to display on the lock screen, that it’s not yours. Most of the people I work with are Apple users— but I’m so used to my own rig that there’s always a slightly dizzying period of adjustment when I have to sit down in front of someone else’s machine. That’s not necessarily a comment on the contemporary condition. I’m a “power user”. I know my tools inside out, and I’ve fine-tuned them for my own quirks and biases. But, seen from the outside at least, I own the same hunks or slabs of metal, glass or aluminium as anyone else.
15 years ago, my peers were all aspiring to the same beige boxes. To be fair, it’s a wider field now. But just the same as any other instrument, it’s what we do with them that counts.
- Robert Pinsky, via Paris Review
- Alan Watts in Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality (via Literary Jukebox)
“If you’re a black person who has ever visited a place where there aren’t many other black people,…”
I know this nod.
And I find some of the comments here fascinating— those that seek to claim the “nod” as a universal gesture that doesn’t depend on race or culture, as if to challenge Musa’s authority on his own experience, or to somehow assert how good the commenter is in not seeing race or being affected by associated concerns and considerations.
Maybe this nod is not the nod you know. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s possible to bend language to your will, to invest extraordinary amounts of effort and care to make words do what you want them to do.
Our culture celebrates athletes that shape their bodies, and chieftains who build organizations. Lesser known, but more available, is the ability to work on our words until they succeed in transmitting our ideas and causing action.
Here’s the thing: you may not have the resources or the physique or the connections that people who do other sorts of work have. But you do have precisely the same keyboard as everyone else. It’s the most level playing field we’ve got.”
Seth Godin on doing the word.
To do it well, bookmark this evolving library of notable advice on writing from celebrated authors, then revisit Steven Pinker on the art and cognitive science of effective writing.
Tumblr says that my photoblog turned five yesterday. Five years old. Wow. Does that make me a Tumblr OG?* To scroll back through five years of random capture is not only homage to the things I’ve seen in that time, but also the tools I’ve used to shoot over the years. Most of the early images were shot via Hipstamatic (aka what we did for Instagram before Instagram came on the scene) on an iPhone 3G. Then there’s a medium format phase, where I shot with with a Yashica 124G and a Bronica ETRS-i, before going back to an iPhone for a bit, and a Sony NEX 5N. Most of the recent captures come from VSCO cam, via my iPhone 5, but there’s a new camera in the family (the Sony A7) that I’m itching to get something more exciting that pictures of my living room floor and other lens tests with. There’s a memory card of recent shots that I need to make some time to flick through…
Of course, the accepted wisdom of the day is that the tools don’t really matter, it’s how you use them that counts. The above is one of my favourite images from FTAEM. Carnival, a few years back, a couple kissing in the middle of the crowd. And although there are those out there who’ll sigh for me fawning over kit, I got this picture with a Yashica 124G— it didn’t feel as solid in the hand as the Bronica, but it was capable of some gorgeous images.
*Speaking of Tumblr-OGism— turns out that Miscellany (the very same blog you’re reading right now) turned 7 earlier this month. Tumblr launched in February 2007. Miscellany started a mere 8 months after. I’ll hold my breath for a certificate of early adoption…
“I have had a troublesome relationship with time. The past I cannot trust because it could be tainted…”
- Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life— Yiyun Li (via This Is A Public Space)
"The sheer scale of space is overwhelming. Oh, sure, we have words to make it more palatable, like “light-years”—as if a distance of 10 trillion kilometers is graspable by our puny simian brains.
"And that’s when I can’t do it any more. The numbers I understand, but the reality of them is too huge.
"When I was a kid—this is true—I used to look up at the sky and fear that some day we’d explore everything and run out of things to discover.
"I was completely wrong. We’ll never run out of sky. Just look at it."
Writing challenge: Focus on an issue, theme or natural phenomena that dwarfs you. Something so large that you lose any sense of individual self whenever you attempt to approach it. Explore it in the body of a piece of writing— more for the feel of it than the facts. How do you communicate and detail the sheer mass of what you’re faced by? The sense of mortal scale? And how, in the resolution of the piece, can you focus down to a single digestible detail?
Ah— on the road. This is specifically about driving, but I think it goes without saying that there’s something appealing about being in the road in the wider sense, travelling beyond the context of the everyday, connecting with parts of yourself that are quietened or subsumed by the demands of the life you settle into…
- Poetic Movements: An Interview with Inua Ellams | Don’t Do It
“When you are very young, you think old people must feel inside as old as they appear on the outside….”
- Inside Mount Melleray: ‘The world as you know it is passing away’. I don’t think this misperception is something that only the “very young” have: people of forty or more years tend to believe that somehow, as you age, your inner life comes to match your outward appearance. But as Waters, says, it’s not true. It’s not true at all. (via ayjay)
“Every keystroke you type is one stroke closer to your last. And because every keystroke counts the…”
- "Email is Where Keystrokes Go to Die." - James Clear
- Kei Miller— The Anxieties of Being a Black Poet in Britain | Under the Saltire Flag
- The Kids Are As Smart As You | Practical Theory
“It is being written in kitchens. It is being written in the limp light of cheap 40-watt bulbs, while…”
It is being written in kitchens. It is being written in the limp light of cheap 40-watt bulbs, while beside you, slouched in a chair or marooned on the couch your lover or your mother sleeps. There is the smell of liver and onions in the air. Waves of garlic descend upon the paper as you write. It is being written beside cat boxes or with old black-painted typewriters whose keys continually jam. It is being written while hamsters breed, where cockatoos work their beaks against the cage. It is morning in Alsace, Louisiana. Two poets arrive in an old black car which diesels after the motor is shut off. They step out off towards the lawn and there are greeted by a third, who is very excited, and wants to show them something. It is being written in tiny cabins up near the Arctic Circle where were it not for the ambivalent howling of the wind one could conceivably hear and be frightened by and take for one’s subject the ambivalent howling of the wolves. It is being written by men who no longer love their wives, who hate their fathers-in-law, by women who cheat on their husbands, by thousands of people old and young who feel molested by life, or cheated by the past, or crippled in the present. It is being written by young girls whose feet have ungainly long second toes, by young men with brains instead of muscles, and whose faces are moon scapes of acne, by young men whose parents cannot even read the labels off soup cans. People walk up and down the aisles of groceries and eye the soup cans. Housewives in put-up hair, in beige, shapeless and wrinkled raincoats shift in their choices between this kind of cracker or that bread, their eyes dull and glassy or ferocious with unacknowledged passion. A boy is stooping to line up bottles of fabric softener, self-conscious and hot around the collar. And he is a poet. Women stand pounding the check-out registers, from soup to nuts, free dog bones, mastocelli noodles, and all with migraines. And they are poets. The manager sits in his tiny booth and counts receipts, now and then staring out over the vast panorama which is this voiceless, heartless, mute and lonely humanity, robot-like as they, passing, push their wire carts. Someday, he will write the great poem of their souls.
It is everywhere this poetry. It is the sacred name of every place, it is the nut and bolt, the bleeder valve, the kite string of reality. It is the deep end of the pool, whose water shivers, whose bottom backs off into blue. It is the unsung, the unsaid, it is the uttered and the barely felt, the blue bird, the red. It is the ache at midnight, the slap in the face, the letter, neglected for so long, we were meaning to write to that which within us has waited, aching for so long.”
- Greg Kuzma, from an introductory note in What Poetry Is All About. This isn’t even the introduction. This is from a note preceding the introduction and the subsequent updated introductions, one for each edition of the text, up until an introduction to the fifth edition, which is the one I found in a treasure trove of secondhand books in Philadelphia. It was near closing, clean on the other side of Philly from where I was staying, and I was travelling out of the city the following morning. And I’m so glad I made the effort to get there. Because I found this.
- George Szirtes: Why Poetry?