Brain, Determination, Writing

Fear, Being Anticipatory, is Always Without Knowledge

It is the same path she’s always followed. It’s grown so familiar she can walk it in her sleep. Most days, she does.

Then one December day, slipping into the groove is more of a stumble. Cold seeps under her cuffs. With the sun so far, the chill has no escape, not up or out, so it stays. The fall turns her neck. Looking up now, she sees how deep the trench, how far the sky.

She remembers the open place up there. Unmapped, daunting, the choices had radiated out in all directions. Wearing this furrow into the uneven terrain had seemed the most reasonable way to proceed.

No doubt someone told her then that ambiguity’s promise eclipses certainty’s price. Only now can she grasp what was lost in the exchange.

With damp walls at her hands and back, she presses in. She begins the climb.

It’s a strange thing about the human mind that, despite its capacity and its abundant freedom, its default is to function in a repeating pattern. It watches the moon and the planets, the days and seasons, the cycle of life and death all going around in an endless loop, and unconsciously, believing itself to be nature, the mind echoes these cycles. Its thoughts go in loops, repeating patterns established so long ago we often can’t remember their origin, or why they ever made sense to us. And even when these loops fail over and over again to bring us to a desirable place, even while they entrap us, and make us feel anciently tired of ourselves, and we sense that sticking to their well-worn path means we’ll miss contact with the truth every single time, we still find it nearly impossible to resist them. We call these patterns of thought our “nature” and resign ourselves to being governed by them as if they are the result of a force outside of us, the way that the seas are governed — rather absurdly, when one thinks about it — by a distant and otherwise irrelevant moon.

And yet it is unquestionably within our power to break the loop; to “violate” what presents itself as our nature by choosing to think — and to see, and act — in a different way. It may require enormous effort and focus. And yet for the most part it isn’t laziness that stops us from breaking these loops, it’s fear. In a sense, one could say that fear is the otherwise irrelevant moon that we allow to govern the far larger nature of our minds.


 Novelist Nicole Krauss responding to Vincent van Gogh’s 1884 letter to his brother.

Brain, Creativity

Things I’ve Forgotten

Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness. . . speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page. . .

-Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

The mark on the door jamb. The combination. The locket. The circle on the calendar. The taste of his mouth. The recipe. The receipt. The dice. The route.

Changing the filter. The menu. The tooth. The thanks before dinner. The linebacker’s name. The sequence. The shoes. The envelope. The year. The rules.

The phone number. Her favorite song. The breast exam. The pull-out couch. The green felt. The tickets. The Frontline. The stamp. The 29th president. The repairman. The will.

That I’m not straight. The French for erase. The first knot. The neighbor’s wife. The soup pot. How to change a tire. The promise. The lyrics. The sound of his snoring. The pattern. The painter. The cat. The buttons. The lie.

How deep to plant them. How hard to press. The hip. The question. The punch line. The yes. The penguin. The turn signal. The fry oil. The way in.  Continue reading “Things I’ve Forgotten”