I was reading this Paris Review interview with poet James Dicky today when I came across the above quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I don’t remember this line in the book itself but Dicky used it to explain his commitment to his own writing style despite the criticism he sometimes receives.
His lifelong mistake. I like that. That’s good. I like the idea of committing to something knowing very well that it could be wrong and not caring because, for whatever reason, it’s right for you. Ha, that’s so something a poet would say. Reminds me of another favorite line of mine from another favorite poet, Whitman, from the preface of Leaves of Grass:
re-examine all that 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 line of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul. Ha, I like that too. That’s good.
And since I’m in the mood to make connections today….
I’ve been reading Good to Great by Jim Collins for work lately (trying to brush up on my business know-how) and there’s this concept he introduces called The Hedgehog Concept, where great companies are like hedgehogs–simple creatures that know one big thing and stick to it. I guess this comes from an Isaiah Berlin essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” that I’d never heard of. But in their work both Berlin and Collins’ emphasized the simplicity of the idea, the one big thing. And what stood out to me was the idea of committing to something so completely. The unwavering aspect. Of saying, this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I can be the best in the world at, and, in turn, this is what I can make a ton of money at. The examples he used were companies that had an idea that other companies thought was wrong, that historically wouldn’t have worked, but it was the right idea for them and their company so they went with it.
Oddly poetic isn’t it? (Except for that money bit of course.) And I just find it kind of delightful that James Joyce, James Dicky, Walt Whitman, and now this Jim Collins guy are all essentially talking about the same thing–sticking to your guns. (Which, I believe, is something John Wayne said before too so now he’s part of this conversation as well.)
But yes, life is funny this way. People are funny. We’re all always talking about the same things. And trying to make sense of the same things. There’s comfort in that I think, though I’m not sure why. (I guess I’m trying to make sense of that one too.)
Ha, okay, I’m getting philosophical (or lack thereof) and weird so moving on…
What I’m reading this week:
So I picked this up thinking it would be my great big challenging read that I would lose myself in while on the numerous flights I had last week (I had a wedding in Corvallis, OR and work in Toledo, OH). Ha, and little did I know but it’s probably the easiest Virginia Woolf novel out there. But man, I forgot how fun and easy Woolf can be. This book was funny! Virginia Woolf was scandalous and sharp and witty and kind of mean and, man, it was great.
But, you know, being Woolf there was also a bunch of like, smart stuff in it and junk too. Ha, and by smart stuff I mean commentary on writing, women’s writing, marriage, the turn of the century, the difference between men and woman, the self, the meaning of life, war, the concept of time, etc. etc. etc.
Some favorite lines and passages:
We must shape our words till they are the thinnest integument for our thoughts.
That silence is more profound after noise still wants the confirmation of science. But that loneliness is more apparent directly after one has been made love to, many women would take their oath.
It is all an illusion (which is nothing against it, for illusions are the most valuable and necessary of all things, and she who can create one is among the world’s greatest benefactors)
By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of life–(and so on for six pages if you will, but the style is tedious and may well be dropped).
Having asked then of man and of bird and the insects, for fish, men tell us, who have lived in green caves, solitary for years to hear them speak, never, never say, and so perhaps know what life is–having asked them all and grown no wiser, but only older and colder (for did we not pray once in a way to wrap up a book something so hard, so rare, one could swear it was life’s meaning?) back we must go and say straight out to the reader who waits a tiptoe to hear what life is–Alas, we don’t know.
everything was partly something else, and each gained an odd moving power from this union of itself and something not itself so that with this mixture of truth and falsehood her mind became like a forest in which things moved; lights and shadows changed, and one thing became another.
It’s a good read and it’s been a good week–lots of learning and new things. Seeing old friends then making new ones. I must say though, I’m happy to be back in the city. It’s good to be home even though my home now smells like cat piss (this is what happens when you leave an anxious cat home alone for six days) and I still don’t have much furniture.
But who needs furniture when it’s nice out, it rained the night before so that that streets have that delicious smell of wet fresh concrete (petrichor), my cat is actually happy to see me, and I found a taqueria by my house that makes a really yummy veggie burrito? Not me. If I had any doubts about my new existence before they are completely removed now. I can walk to a quality burrito establishment–I mean, what else do I need?
Well, other than books and beer and wine and friends and family and a lifelong mistake to make.
But that’s not much. (smile goes here)