fragments I’ve been thinking about lately. last updated March 2021.

from How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

In a file I still have from 1989, there is a letter from my sister, when she was fifteen and I was twenty-two, asking me to send my tax form to my mother so she could give it to our accountant. This is in a folder with the tax return from that year, completed after I sent the form. I can see the earnings from the sandwich shop I worked at in Middletown, Connecticut, while a student at Wesleyan; earnings from my first months at A Different Light, the bookstore where I worked in San Francisco just after college graduation; and the taxes paid on the stock certificates I sold from my trust in order to pay off my tuition bill at Wesleyan.

Asking my younger sister to write and ask me to send the tax form was my mother’s way of communicating, off-kilter and indirect. To this day, she will ask one of us to communicate something to the other, though she could just as easily call directly. I have tried my whole life to change this in her, as I have tried to change my own relationship to money and pain, which are forever twinned in my mind.

from Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Back in the car, I asked my mom to fish out an envelope and stamp from the glove compartment because she kept everything there: pictures of me, pictures of herself, lipstick and maps of every city she wanted to drive to one day, newspaper clippings of food she wanted to try, laces for our shoes in case we tripped and broke them somehow, aspirin and diarrhea pills, moist towelettes, ketchup and hot sauce packets, secret letters I would never know anything about—who wrote them and for what purpose and to whom?

from Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs

In my cleaning class, we all sat around a big table and measured baking soda and borax into jars, adding drops of oils and bits of ground thyme. Like all successful chemistry, it was satisfying in a very primal way. What’s more, no part of the process was trivial or mundane. Creating and using something handmade never is. I came to realize that my skepticism about the importance of these acts was based on a cultural belief that the domestic sphere is somehow less important than the public sphere. Which, of course, is such a load of crap. If we DIY only the elective, recreational parts of our lives—or only what other people can see—then how much of our lives are we really reclaiming?

from How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

What becomes clear in [Veronica Barassi’s] analysis is that thought and deliberation require not just incubation space (solitude and/or a defined context) but incubation time. My experience suggests that these challenges apply not only to activists but also to an individual trying to communicate with others, or just maintain coherent trains of thought. Whether the dialogue I want is with myself, a friend, or a group of people committed to the same cause as I am, there are concrete conditions for dialogue. Without space and time, these dialogues will not only die, they will never be born in the first place.

from To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance. There were the eternal problems: suffering; death; the poor. There was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through it all.

from Kudos by Rachel Cusk

The self-destructive novel, like the self-destructive person, was something from which in the end you remained helplessly separated, forced to watch a spectacle—the soul turning on itself—in which you were powerless to intervene. Great art was very often brought to the service of this self-immolation, as great intelligence and sensitivity often characterized those who found the world an impossible place to live in; yet the spectre of madness was so discomfiting that it made surrender to the writing unfeasible; one stayed on one’s guard, as a child might stay on its guard against a mad parent, knowing itself ultimately alone. Negative literature, he had noticed, got much of its power through the fearless use of honesty: a person with no interest in living and hence no investment in the future can afford to be honest, he said, and the same dubious priviliege was extended to the negative writer. Yet their honesty, as he had said, was of an unpalatable kind: in a sense it went to waste, perhaps because no one cared for the honesty of someone who was jumping the ship the rest of us were stuck on. The real honesty, of course, was that of the person who remained on board and endeavored to tell the truth about it, or so we were led to believe. If I agreed that literature was a form that took its life-blood from social and material constructs, the writer could do no more than stay within those constructs, buried in bourgeois life—as he had recently read it described somewhere—like a tick in an animal’s fur.

from Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado, translated by James L. Taylor and William L. Grossman

The Doctor was not a doctor and the Captain was not a captain. Just as most of the colonels were not colonels: the title was merely a traditional symbol of ownership of a large plantation, generally one producing more than a thousand arrobas annually; it had no military signifiance whatever. João Fulgêncio, who liked to ridicule local customs, used to say they were “colonels of the most irregulars,” for many of them had led bands of outlaws in the bloody struggle for control of the land.

Some of the younger generation had never even heard the noble and sonorous name of Pelópidas de Assunção d’Ávila, so accustomed were they to addressing him respectfully as Doctor. Miguel Batista de Oliveira, the Captain, was the son of Cazuzinha, who had been mayor at the beginning of the era of struggle, who had been rich but had died poor, and whose reputation for kindness was still talked about by old women. Even as a boy, Miguel was called Captain, for he always commanded the other children.

They were two of the town’s illustrious personalities and, though old friends, they were rivals for acceptance as the town’s most eloquent and thrilling orator. Each had his fanatical supporters. On every conceivable occasion—national holidays, Christmas and New Year fesitivities, visits of literary figures from the state capital—the Doctor and the Captain delivered speeches, and the controversy started anew.