Monday, November 12, 2012

A$$-pocket notebook as a Cloud Atlas

1. "I asked, how is knowledge found?" "You must learn how to read, little sister."

2. "We are only what we know, and I wished to be much more than I was, sorely."

3. "What was knowledge for, I would ask myself, if I could not use it to better my existence?"

I carry around a small, black notebook in my back pocket. Or, as we've said here, quoting R.L. Burnside, my "ass pocket." My notebook and a pen are more likely than my wallet to be found on me in a search.

The ass-pocket notebook is scrawled through with quotes, inspirations, existential questions, landmarks, grocery lists, reading and music recommendations, notes jotted from meetings. When I flip back through it, I can remember where I was or what I was thinking when I read the pages forward. If I can read my writing.

We've talked about Junot Diaz here already. The other mind-blowing contemporary novelist who has been rewiring my brain is David Mitchell, as I am on the home stretch of his "Cloud Atlas." There is no spoiler here, I'm not talking plot twists or reviewing the book. But as I got to the section called, "An Orison of Sonmi-451," I found myself filling my ass-pocket notebook with passages like the three above.

Sonmi as a character is coming to things like knowledge, reading, nature and the world outside for the first time, and as such appreciates things in a way that most of us have long forgotten or taken for granted. That echoes one of my favorite concepts/lenses for looking at life and the world, "Beginner's Mind."

I've pondered the title, "Cloud Atlas" a bit, which I more than dig. The fruitless, frustrating mess of trying to map the moving, shifting, swirling clouds. Why would anyone put themselves through that? But then, you have the mornings or evenings when the clouds are painted with sun, and even though you know there can be no holding it together, no way to make it stay; you know that by the time you try to tell someone about it, just to get them to look it will be gone.

You know there is no point. But you have to do it anyway. You have to try. And maybe "Art" with a capital "A," maybe that's what Art is, just a cloud atlas. Just an attempt to map the unmappable.

And that's why I carry the ass-pocket notebook. For those times, when the sun-painted clouds need mapping.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The world runs through us"

I could start with dreams, since I rarely have them. I hadn't dreamed on consecutive nights in more than a decade. "Sleeps in Fits" could be my Indian name. But there I was dreaming--super powers one night, confused in a distorted neighborhood the next. Deep sleep, Freud be damned.

I could start with inspiration, reading Jack Kerouac's poems, or Junot Diaz, Carl Sandburg or Matthew Dickman. Writers who read the world and themselves and swirl the two together on the page. Writers who look beyond language to what the words point at.

I could start with reading Ada Limon's "Shark in the Rivers," sitting along the Anacostia River while a Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter circle-hovers the river, three, four times; the river a debris-littered still in the days after Hurricane Sandy.

The pilot and I look at the river, neither of us wants to jump in.

The helicopter's WHUP is louder than the river, but not as loud as Sandy.

Ada Limon says, "This is the way / the world runs through us..."

and I wonder if she means with dreams, inspiration, words, poetry, helicopters and hurricanes.