Come possiamo diventare più premurosi, più aperti, meno egoisti, più presenti, meno deludenti e così via? Il modo c’è. Una buona istruzione serve. Immergersi in un’opera d’arte serve. Pregare serve. Meditare serve. Una chiacchierata schietta con un caro amico serve. Sentirsi parte di una tradizione spirituale serve… Ma qualsiasi cosa farete, nella misura del possibile eccedete in gentilezza, cercando di tenervi alla larga dalle cose che possono sminuirvi e rendervi banali. Quella luminosa parte di voi che esiste al di là della vostra personalità – la vostra anima, se credete – è tanto luminosa e brillante quanto nessun’altra. [..] Sbarazzatevi di tutto ciò che vi può tenere lontani da quella luminosità nascosta.
—  George Saunders
to have never heard his voice or seen his face is all the longing

what to do
with the problematic author whose
stories you love

until the first time you hear him speak

not of his heart but rather his goal
his aim his intention his bane his vain
slathering in manipulating the world
and his life to become famous
as central to his game
and in reference to
the point of his
writing

stories 

the indelible ink
of basking in glory
gain and reign and intentions
far more base than kindness
are written and erased in smudges
gooey inked crumbles arrayed across 
each page

and oh oh oh how i wish
i could unknow it

but i refuse to
i won’t do

my part to
invisiblate

the humans
he uses

I think it’s also a kind of a psychological thing. As a kid, I had a real fascination with perverse, off-color, and kind of risky things, and I also had a very sanctimonious Catholic, purist side. For me, things were either very sullied or very pure, very controlled or very under-controlled. One of the big breakthrough moments was to realize that you aren’t going to be able to excise one of those. But you are going to be able to use them against one another or in support of one another—almost like two people on a motorcycle. One tendency has to aid and abet the other, in a certain way. So if I find myself being too earnest and sentimental and hyperbolic and simplistic, which is definitely a tendency I have, then I bring in this perverse henchman.
—  George Saunders
PCT Day 120: You Know I’d Walk 2,000 Miles

There was condensation all over the tent this morning, meaning everything inside would get a little dirtier. Oh well. I rolled out of bed and got on trail. After five miles and change, I hit it: mile 2,000. 

The first thousand took me 69 days to do; the second thousand took just 51. I am undoubtedly getting faster and stronger and more eager to plow ahead into the great unknown. I felt a great surge of relief, and the prevailing sense that the end of this journey is real and reachable. I wanted to share the moment with someone, so I waited at the marker for Butterfingers, Early Bird, and Worm. 

Waiting, with nothing to do, I was seized by the temptation to take out my book and start reading. Or eat my snacks. Or drink my break-time coffee/protein powder drink. Or play on my phone. These urges all flooded me after sitting there idle for about 30 seconds. Instead I tried to be still, really and truly still, present, in my own head. This took actual effort: To just be, rather than to do. 

I am so used to distraction that I don’t know how to function without one. It strikes me that the opposite of stillness isn’t movement, it’s consumption. The overwhelming need to devour entertainment, food, drink, time. It’s greedy. It is so easy to become stuck in a pattern of endless need, to trick yourself into believing that you’ll be happy if you just get this next thing–I fall into this on trap occasionally, telling myself that if I just let myself eat my next bar I’ll be happy for the next however-many miles. That I can put my headphones in 15 minutes earlier than I promised I would, because I’m having a tough day and don’t I deserve it? 

I am not the first person to realize just how wrapped up one can be in the need to consume, even after four months ostensibly spent rediscovering oneself in the wilderness. George Saunders wrote about this notion in the essay I read a few days ago, about the “Buddha Boy”:

The mind is a machine that is constantly asking: What would I prefer? Close your eyes, refuse to move, and watch what your mind does. What it does is become discontent with That Which Is. A desire arises, you satisfy that desire, and another arises in its place. This wanting and rewanting is an endless cycle for which, turns out, there is already a name: samsara. Samsara is at the heart of the vast human carnival: greed, neurosis, mad ambition, adultery, crimes of passion, the hacking to death of a terrified man on a hillside in the name of A More Pure And Thus Perfect Nation–and all of this takes place because we believe we will be made happy once our desires have been satisfied.

I know this. But still I’m full of desire.

Keep reading

I don’t think anyone has gotten closer than Thomas Pynchon to summoning the real audacity and insanity and scope of the American mind, as reflected in the American landscape. I read Pynchon all out of order, starting with Vineland, and I still remember the shock of pleasure I got at finally seeing the America I knew—strange shops and boulevards, built over former strange shops and former boulevards, all laid out there in valleys and dead-end forests, heaped on top of Indian cemeteries, peopled with nut jobs and hustlers and moral purists—actually present in a novel, and present not only in substance but in structure and language that both used and evoked the unruly, muscular complexity of the world itself.

In Pynchon, anything is fair game—if it is in the world, it can go in the book. To me there is something Buddhist about this approach, which seems to say that since the world is capable of producing an infinity of forms, the novel must be capable of accommodating an infinite number of forms. All aesthetic concerns (style, form, structure) answer this purpose: Let in the world.

This is why Pynchon is our biggest writer, the gold standard of that overused word inclusiveness: No dogma or tidy aesthetic rule or literary fashion is allowed to prefilter the beautiful data streaming in. Everything is included. No inclination of the mind is too small or large or frightening. The result is gorgeous madness, which does what great literature has always done—reminds us that there is a world out there that is bigger than us and worthy of our utmost humility and attention.

I have often felt that we read to gain some idea of what God would say about us if someone were to ask Him what we’re like. Pynchon says, through the vast loving catalogue he has made, that we are Excellent but need to be watched closely. He says there is no higher form of worship than the loving (i.e., madly attentive) observation of that-which-is, a form of prayer of which Pynchon’s work is our highest example.

—  George Saunders on Thomas Pynchon